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Managing Dysfunction The Three-Pronged Approach Adapted from our course, The Effective Facilitator leadstrat.com | 800-824-2850

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Managing Dysfunction The Three-Pronged Approach Adapted from our course, The Effective Facilitator leadstrat.com | 800-824-2850
What’s Inside? Introduction
The Facilitator’s Methodology
Types of Dysfunction
Example
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It’s No Joke Dysfunctional behavior in meetings is no joke. Side conversations, late arrivals, negativity and a host of other bad behaviors can cause a facilitator high anxiety – and for good reason. Without adequate preparation and training in handling dysfunctional situations, a facilitated session can start smooth but turn into a disaster before your eyes. And, dysfunctional behavior that is ignored often doesn’t go away.
This eBook will show you some tips and tricks to help get you through some of the worst dysfunction out there. Adapted from Michael Wilkinson’s book, The Secrets of Facilitation, 2nd ed. and the corresponding facilitation course, The Effective Facilitator, the eBook will help you define dysfunctional behavior as well as list techniques for conscious prevention, early detection and clean resolutions.
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The Facilitator’s Methodology™ Following The Facilitator’s Methodology: The Ten Principles of Facilitation allows professional facilitators to hit their mark every time, and subject matter experts who lead sessions and meetings to easily follow a proven and repeatable methodology for leading groups to consensus. Learn how to execute these principles in The Effective Facilitator course. 1
Preparing for Success
3 Focusing
the Group
9 Closing
the Session
5 Information
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Dysfunctional Behavior: What is it? Dysfunctional behavior is any activity by a participant that is consciously or unconsciously a substitution for expressing displeasure with the session content, the facilitation process or outside factors. Dysfunctional behavior is a symptom, not a root cause. This definition has three important implications.
Behavior is dysfunctional – not people.
A person in one meeting may be actively and cooperatively participating, but in the next meeting, the behavior may turn dysfunctional. In fact, the transition from functional to dysfunctional can occur in the same meeting, multiple times!
The dysfunctional behavior may be conscious or unconscious.
Often, people exhibiting signs of dysfunction are not aware of the behavior. Other times, the behavior is intentional in an effort to bring about change, disruption or some other action.
The dysfunction is a substitution for expressing displeasure related to the session content, process or outside factor.
For example, the content issue might be that a comment was made with which the participant strongly disagrees. If the displeasure is with the process, it might be that the participant feels that the pace is too fast or that the process is getting in the way of getting to the real work. If the displeasure is an outside factor, it might be that there is an issue in the participant’s personal life that has him/her distracted and unable to focus on the session.
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Types of Dysfunction While there are many types of dysfunctions, it’s important to remember that as the degree of the dysfunction increases, so does the severity of the disruption. For example, the early forms of dysfunction, such as dropping out and doing other work in the session, you might not even recognize. The middle forms, such as audible signs of displeasure and negative physical reactions, might be irritating, but not completely disruptive. However, in the later forms, such as verbal and physical attacks, the disruption is severe.
So, as the degree of the dysfunction goes up, so does the severity of
the disruption, AND the intensity of your intervention. Addressing dysfunctions such as silence or side conversations is relatively easy. Addressing the middle forms is a bit more difficult. But, addressing the later forms requires much heavier interventions.
The good news, however, is that people don’t walk into a room, sit down, and immediately start going at each other’s throats. What usually happens is that there is an escalation period in which people get increasingly irritated, increasingly stressed, increasingly impatient, and more willing to allow their emotions to peak. They move up the dysfunction curve.
As the degree of dysfunction increases, the severity of the disruption caused by the dysfunction increases as well.
Physically attacking someone
Verbal attack directed at a participant
Negative comments about a participant
Audible sighs of displeasure
Side conversations
Arriving late, leaving early
Silence, lack of participation
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1. Conscious Prevention Identifying dysfunctional behavior will get you started, but then what? The next key is identifying potential dysfunction before it starts, so you have a chance to prevent it.
When preparing for a session, we teach facilitators to cover the Six Ps of Preparation: Purpose, Participants, Product, Probably Issues, Process and Place. When talking with the meeting sponsor before the session and, if possible, the participants, ask about issues or concerns that might come up or cause problems during the session.
The Six P’s of Preparation
Purpose Product Participants Process PlaceProbable Issues
More examples of prevention strategies, like using ground rules and seat assignments, and how to execute them are taught in the 3 and 4-day The Effective Facilitator courses.
Specifically, you can ask:
• Are there any participants not in favor of holding the session?
• Are there participants who perceive they stand to lose something if the session or project achieves its objectives?
• Are there any participants who are not on favorable terms with one another?
• Which participants, if any, tend to point out problems rather than create solutions?
Answering these questions can help you develop prevention strategies for eliminating dysfunction before it can start. For instance, if you know in advance that there are individuals who don’t want to be present or who feel they stand to lose something if the session is successful, you will want to make it a point to interact with them prior to the session. You can prepare them for a successful session by asking their input on questions like: What is the real purpose of the session? What are the key results that should be achieved? How do we make sure the session is not a waste of time?
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2. Early Detection If dysfunction can’t be prevented, the next best thing is to detect it as early as possible. Facilitators must constantly be on the lookout for signs of engagement. When people are actively engaged in work they feel good about, they are less likely to exhibit dysfunctional behavior. Likewise, when people are NOT engaged in work they feel good about, they are more likely to be dysfunctional.
When People Are Engaged
Involvement in the discussion
Laughs, smiles, head nods
Bodies leaning and legs crossed toward the center of the room
When People Are Not Engaged
Low involvement in the discussion
Complaints, objections
Frowns, head shakes
Bodies leaning and legs crossed away from the center of the room
Caution: Don’t Jump to Conclusions! A person in one meeting may be actively and cooperatively participating, but in the next meeting, the behavior may turn dysfunctional. In fact, the transition from functional to dysfunctional can occur in the same meeting, multiple times!
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3. Clean Resolution Exactly how you deal with dysfunction will vary depending upon the nature of the dysfunction, when it occurs, the number of people impacted, the probable root cause and other factors, but you can follow this general formula for addressing dysfunction in almost any situation.
Step 1: Approach privately or generally
Determine how personal the dysfunction is for the participant or participants. Often, you will want to speak privately with the person during a break since calling attention to the person’s behavior publicly might get in the way of resolution. For other dysfunctions, like several people being late to the session, you will be able to address the issue generally to the entire group without pointing out the person specifically.
Step 2: Empathize with the symptom
When people behave in a dysfunctional
way, our natural tendency may be to say, “Stop that! Put that away. Behave like a functional individual.” Unfortunately, most adults do not react well to this approach. Instead, start by empathizing with their situation. Either express concern about the situation they find themselves in or praise an appropriate aspect of their behavior.
Step 3: Address the root cause
Now that you have empathized with the symptom, the next step is to address the root cause. You will want to make an effort to get at the real issue. We try to do this by asking a question that will yield a response that confirms the issue, like “We really need your full attention if we can get it. Are we addressing issues that are important to you?”
Step 4: Get agreement on a solution
The final step is to get agreement on how the situation will be handled going forward. The agreement, of course, will depend upon what the real issue is.
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Example: The Whisperer Here is an example of how to handle one of the many types of dysfunctional “characters” that we teach in our facilitation course.
The Whisperer Dysfunction: Hold side conversations
Actions: • Remind the group of the ground rules (e.g., respect the speaker).
• Stand next to the whisperer if it occurs again. Often, your proximity to them is enough to cause them to stop.
• Privately, if possible, give the “shhh” sign with one finger to your lips if the whispering continues.
• Discuss privately during the break to ensure there is not an additional problem.
Whether it’s a Whisperer or some other type of dysfunctional behavior in your room, we hope this eBook gives you the best start on managing the behavior toward a more “functional” environment.
Don’t forget – managing dysfunction is about conscious prevention, early detection, and clean resolution. Recognize that dysfunction takes many forms – some worse than others, so managing dysfunction like a pro requires practice! Try these techniques in your next session.
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Are you ready to squash dysfunctional behavior? This eBook is just the beginning of your learning to prevent and eliminate dysfunctional behavior in meetings. Learn The Facilitator’s Methodology: The Ten Principles of Facilitation, plus the 6Ps of Preparation, and practice them to get better. Preventing, detecting and resolving dyfunctional behavior will improve meetings for all involved, and can earn you recognition. Contact us for more facilitator support.
@LeadStrat
@LeadStrat
leadstrat.com | 800-824-2850