FACILITATION: Transforming groups into spaces for growth
A month before Lehman Brothers fell, in 2008, I sold my flat, left my job, and reinvented myself as a social activist, moving to a rural area of Galicia to live. Until then, I thought that meetings without hierarchies or rules would be more sensible in the social sphere than in the professional sphere. To my surprise, I stumbled upon the fact that in the professional sphere, a certain type of behavior continued to bog down time and consume people who, in silence, were simultaneously suffering from group violence. The inability to reach decisions that were amenable to the majority of the group was also repeated quite frequently. This brought me to the search for “how to work well together in a group,” and I found out about group facilitation.
As my training advanced, the surprises began to appear. I realized that even I had used manipulative mechanisms in the meetings of groups I belonged to: not giving others the chance to talk, feeling angry when I was contradicted, taking criticism of my contributions as personal attacks; hearing what I wanted to hear, and considering invalid anything that I wasn’t interested in.
Through facilitation, I became aware of my status –my responsibility– and how I could use this to give a voice to the excluded. I think that giving a say to those who never use their right to speak in a team is one of the great revolutions that is about to come. A few days ago, the New York Times, summarizing a study by Google, said that efficient teams need “psychologically safe spaces” to be able to share from a personal standpoint.
I learned to listen more actively and deeply and to communicate without hurting others or being hurt. I can now ask for what I need in an assertive way, feeling sure and flexible in my dialog, and I know that the more specific I am with my request, the easier it is for the other person to respond. Now I can observe how unstated power is distributed in a group of people, how that power is used, and –more importantly– I have the tools and abilities to contribute to the readjustment of that reality.
When I began to train as a facilitator, I thought that I was doing so to help groups. However, I can now say that this is one of the kinds of training that I have done that has most changed me. We are relational beings, and “how” I relate with others directly affects my happiness and that of those who surround me. Facilitation changed my way of life and how I see the world. I fell in love with the potential of an aware group and it ended up becoming my passion in my job. Since then I have accompanied groups, teams, and companies to help them to enjoy meetings, helping them to manage differences and conflicts at the time when they arise, likewise helping them to celebrate every goal attained. By creating spaces in which people speak without fear, they show their vulnerabilities, they state their preferences to each other, and they openly explain what they think would help to improve their relationship. This new way of relating with each other makes the group become a space for growth and allows organizations to profit from one of the least measured assets in terms of decision making: the gray matter that is the whole of the team members.