Integrative Facilitation and “Bumping Up” Conversations

From an ICD teaching resource:

Supporting and engendering culturally mature perspective requires a specific sort of active leadership/facilitation. Integrative Facilitation involves continually expanding perspective so that thinking at least confronts the threshold of culturally mature conception. Doing this requires particular skills.  The following piece describing some of these skills was developed for use in training faculty and leaders at the Institute for Creative Development.

Culturally Mature/Integrative Facilitation

Catalyzing meaningful interaction becomes a new kind of enterprise when questions require integrative responses.  New perspectives, skills, and sensibilities are needed.  This is true equally if that catalyzing is done from a traditional leadership position, from a posture of participant or informal leader, or in a specific role as a process facilitator.

The ideas that follow are intended to help in understanding what I will here call Culturally Mature or Integrative Facilitation (that we have terms for the catalyzing of integrative interaction irrespective of setting and role). We will begin by looking at when and why Culturally Mature Facilitation is needed. Then we will examine four skills that play a part in successful Culturally Mature Facilitation: 1) working from a “third space,” Whole-Person posture, 2) using integral concepts to “jam” with questions so as to move conversations into integral territory, 3) integrative process skills, and 4) the use of integratively structured questions and exercises to set the stage for and support culturally mature work.  Finally, we will examine a number of topics that become important as we move dialogue into culturally mature territory: what happens as we bridge and blur traditional roles, how the nature of relationships change in integrative territory, the need to think about truth more complexly than we are accustomed, and finally, the importance of sensitivity to personality style differences when addressing integrative concerns.

Kinds of Growth

When do we need Integrative Facilitation?

Ultimately, we facilitate interaction in order to support growth in a system.  Creative Systems Theory suggests that to do this effectively, we need to distinguish between four distinct kinds of growth/change that may confront a system.  Each requires different leadership/facilitation approaches.  Integrative awareness is needed to distinguish between these kinds of changes.  But specific Culturally Mature Facilitation approaches are needed only in certain circumstances.

In the first type of change, the growth task is simple learning with little or no needed increase in Capacitance.  (For example, a company realizes they need to upgrade their computer system.  It won’t take greater skill or sophistication, but it will take a lot of time committed to learning new material.)  The second type of change involves not just learning, but as well an increase in Capacitance.  (Tied to the new computer system is the need to handle a lot more information, and in more detailed and complex ways.)  The third type of change involves not just a challenge to Capacitance, but the need to engage a new order (chapter, logical type, species or   “paradigm”) of functioning.  (The company needing to deal with more information is tied to its evolution from a founder stage model of functioning to a more administrative model.  This will require a fundamental reordering of all that the company does.)  The final type of change involves not just a new chapter in functioning, but specifically, the need to move into a more culturally mature mode of functioning.  (The company is taking on issues that require culturally mature solutions—for example, issues that involve fundamental questions of value that have no ready cultural handholds, or issues that bridge conventional polarities.  Immediately, it needs to bring integrative capacities to bear to address these questions.  More long term, its  leadership and organizational structures will likely need to change to match the more dynamic territory these questions challenge it to enter.)

At a first level of analysis, the needed distinction is quite simple.  The first three types of change can be managed with traditional leadership and traditional facilitation.  The last requires Culturally Mature Leadership.

However, put in the context of present time, the distinctions are more subtle and often multi-layered.  CST argues that the critical questions across culture are increasingly require culturally mature responses, and because of this, effective leadership more and more must have strong integrative components.  Once a system is in culturally mature territory, even the first three types of change require integrative sensitivities.

“Bumping Up”  Conversations

It is useful to distinguish between Culturally Mature Facilitation done with a system already functioning in integrative territory, and Culturally Mature Facilitation designed to get a system into integrative territory.

Culturally Mature Facilitation is always challenging business.  Since we are just learning how to function integratively, Culturally Mature Facilitation means working in territory where more often than not there are five questions for very answer.  And the larger number of those questions are not technical, but paradigmatic.

But it is that in-between place where integrative dynamics are needed and possible but not yet strongly present—when the facilitator’s first task must be to get a conversation into culturally mature territory—that requires the greatest sophistication   A group that is highly integrative in its functioning can tolerate some pretty clumsy facilitating without loosing its hold on culturally mature reality.  It is at the entry way into culturally mature territory that the Culturally Mature Facilitator earns his or her keep (either the entry way into integrative understanding in general or integrative understanding of a particular issue.)

CST uses the phrase “bumping up” to describe the act of moving a system into culturally mature territory.  “Bumping up” is an essential skill.  If a group is dealing with issues that involve integrative concerns, effective “bumping up” is critical or the right questions won’t get asked and the real work won’t done—no matter how good people’s intentions.

“Bumping up” conversation is tricky business.  It involves the traversing of a discontinuity—a leap in perspective.  Logically, one “can’t get there from here.” “Bumping up” necessarily pushes a system past its comfort zone.  It requires both a particular way of “holding” a conversation and a particular set of content and process skills to do it successfully.

The Posture of Culturally Mature Facilitation

Of the four skills involved in successful Culturally Mature Facilitation, the most important is the posture from which it is done.

At the most basic level, Culturally Mature Facilitation is simply facilitation done from a creative “third-space.”  To be most effective,  it must be done from a place that not only bridges the pertinent content polarities but maintains a Whole-Person relationship with the systems involved.  One will bring special gifts or authority from a particular part of a system—manager, artist, worker, citizen, teacher, parent.  But one must find ways in oneself to hold the entirety of the pertinent creative whole to support integrative work in any consistent way.

In an important sense, posture defines Culturally Mature Facilitation. Any facilitation done from a Whole-Person place will have elements of Culturally Mature Facilitation however knowledgeable the person may be of integrative technique.  And when a facilitator loses his/her Whole-Person posture, no matter how good the person’s technical skills, the facilitation will stop being integrative.

(Note: A Whole-Person posture is different from simply being “objective” on an issue—able to stand back separate from it.  Any good facilitation requires this.  From a creative perspective objectivity is one half of a polarity: objective and subjective.  A Whole-Person—integrative—posture embodies the larger whole of both this polarity and whatever specific polarities are pertinent to the conversation.)

Working at a Content Level

The most visible techniques in Culturally Mature Facilitation, particularly when the task is to “bump up” conversation, work at a content level.  They involve asking questions and making observations that “jam” with the pertinent issue and move the conversation into integral territory.

The word “jam” as I use it here includes a bit of both jamming in the sense of jazz, and jamming in the sense of push (and maybe even jam in the sense of a relative of grape jelly).  “Jamming” the assumptions prevailing in a room reveals those assumptions to be inadequate to the question at hand and points toward more complete possibilities.  It doesn’t by itself take the group into culturally mature territory, but if done well, it succeeds in pulling the ground from beneath usual assumptions so that a person has few choices but to leap.  And it can support people in the group who may be having integrative “inklings” but have hesitated to express them because of the difficulty of putting integrative thoughts into words.  Jamming approaches create a conceptual bind that makes obvious that a question cannot be addressed, indeed adequately understood, in the terms in was presented.

“Jamming” may employ any of the key conceptual themes in culturally mature understanding.  For example, it may point out that a question being addressed requires a new kind of referent (i.e., how a  particular moral question can only be addressed by stepping beyond form-defined rules), show how there is a hidden polarity in the way a question is being approached (i.e. reveal a liberal or conservative polar assumption in a question and how that gets in the way of needed understanding), or demonstrate that a new level of systemic complexity is required for understanding a question (i.e., the multi-layered/multi-leveled understanding required for managing global relations beyond the knee-jerk rules of Cold War polarization).

The facilitator may choose a particular theme as a tool for “bumping up” an issue because it is likely to be particularly  accessible for a particular audience.  He or she may choose a particular theme because it piggybacks effectively on a concept the group is starting to “get.”  Or he or she may choose it because it is different from what has been touched on to that point and may help fill in a larger integrative picture.

Below I’ve listed the themes from the handout “Ten Themes Shared By Today’s Critical Emergent Challenges” and one example for each of how it might be used to “jam” a conversation:

Emerging challenges require—

1) A new level of responsibility in questions of all kinds:  The facilitator shows how a new level of maturity and ownership is needed to address the question being discussed.

Example:  In a discussion on family values, the facilitator introduces the example of gender roles, and our need to take a personal responsibility in them new to us as a species. This is used to introduce the need to address all questions of value with a new maturity. The critical discussion of family values is expanded by the questions “whose family” and “whose values.” The critical issue of how to address a very real crisis in values when values are no longer form-defined steps forefront.

2) A new comfort with uncertainty and complexity:  The facilitator shows how the question involves a new order of uncertainty and complexity.

Example:  In a discussion about trying to achieve world peace, the facilitator points out how we expected the end of the Cold War to bring such peace.  Instead, moving beyond the either/ors of “chosen people” and “evil empires” has revealed a complexly evolving, multifaceted world where conflict is a common ingredient.  The conversation turns to what it means to govern in a dynamically multifaceted reality that includes real conflict.

3) That we learn to think more systemically:  The facilitator pints out systemic elements left out of a discussion.

Example:  A person with strong environmental leanings emphasizes the need to think in terms of the health of the whole planet.  The facilitator points out how the tendency of the environmental movement to leave the human being out of the environmental equation too often results in not just unneeded polarization in the environmental debate, but the advocating of poor policy.  The conversation expands to explore the role of human beings in ecological systems and what ways of thinking about nature support the most healthy planetary future.

4) That we bring a new completeness to relationships of all sorts:  The facilitator points out a limited conception of a particular relationship.

Example:  A person bemoans our current lack of community and waxes romantically about earlier times.  The facilitator points our that community of the past was based on narrow moral rules and polar notions of “chosen people” and “evil others.”  We likely wouldn’t want to live in one.  The conversation expands to how we might best define and support community for the future.

5) That we learn to bridge beyond past defining polarities:  The facilitator illustrates how neither of our past polar responses to a situation are adequate to what it asks today.

Example:  In addressing welfare reform, the facilitator points out how neither “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” nor “government as benevolent parent” approaches are adequate for providing a safety net and helping people prosper.  The conversation expands to look at more creative ways to address short-term needs and the more long-tern issues of creating new kinds of community and how community in the future can function to fulfill critical social needs.

6) That we learn to think about and “measure” truth more systemically:  The facilitator in some way illustrates how an old referent is inadequate for the question at hand and uses this fact to point toward culturally mature territory.

Example:  In a discussion on winning in the global economy, the facilitator points our how our old definition of progress, while once useful, is now a formula for global destruction. The conversation turns to defining progress for the future, and examining whether “winning” long-term in the global economy means all the things that we may assume it does.

7) That we learn to better appreciate the creative importance of limits:  The facilitator points out limits that need to be acknowledged and also how they have the potential to make us more rather than less.

Example:  In a discussion about health care reform, the facilitator points out how keeping cost within bounds will require the eventual rationing of health care.  The conversation evolves to address what it would mean to move beyond defining health in terms of defeating disease, the decision-making processes that would be needed to fairly ration health     care, and the larger implications of culture having a more mature relationship to death, and the place of health care in the larger question of a healthy society.

8) That we recognize a more complete definition of intelligence and learn to bring all of our intelligences to bear when dealing with difficult questions:  The facilitator points out how all of our intelligences are needed to grapple with a particular issue.

Example:  An argument grows in the room about whether a scientific or spiritual viewpoint is more important for the     future.  The facilitator illustrates how emerging challenges, from understanding our unique experience of gender to our collective task of redefining progress require both of these voices and more to be effectively addressed.  The conversation expands to include a discussion of the nature of intelligence and the kinds of intelligence needed to address emergent questions.

9) That we move beyond framing issues in the language of “problems” and “solutions” and learn to think about change more dynamically and inclusively:  The facilitator points out where a problem/solution framing of a issue has us ask the wrong questions.

Example:  In a discussion of the “gang problem,” the facilitator points out how a problem framework has us ask the wrong questions.  Gangs fulfill real needs for community and a sense of power.  Two larger questions present themselves:  Are these needs unique to people in gangs?  And if they are not, how do we best address them for society as a whole?

10) That we be more skilled in understanding and utilizing the creative power of difference:  The facilitator points out a situation where embracing diversity not only helps us get along, but is essential if reality is to be held large enough to address the critical questions.

Example:  In a discussion about educational reform, the facilitator points out that efforts at alternative education tend not to result in better education, simply education that works for a different set of personality styles.  The discussion expands to why we need all personality styles in our critical conversations and how to develop educational environments that support this diversity and teach the skills of collaborative work.

As an exercise to prepare for handling questions from a culturally mature place, you might take a list of issues/challenges/problems and see if you can respond to each from the perspective of each of these change variables.

Process Level Approaches

While the content level aspects of Culturally Mature Facilitation tend to be most obvious and visible, it is frequently the process level aspects that are most critical to engaging and maintaining integral territory.

Specific approaches to process not only give a particular feel to the room, they define what can happen in the room.  Integrative understanding recognizes that process and content are never wholly separate—the medium is often indeed the message.  For example, a “left-hand” facilitation approach that emphasizes a minimum of structure, inclusion of everyone present, and sharing at a feeling level will strongly bias the conversation toward liberal, humanistic, or New Age outcomes.  Indeed, if a group has predilection in these directions, more “left-handed” approaches to facilitation almost guarantee that the conversation will never make it into integrative territory.  In contrast, a more “right-hand” leadership approach that emphasizes clear goals, rational discourse, expert opinion, and staying on task will strongly bias the conversation toward Separation Fallacies.

A good integrative facilitator knows that to move a conversation into culturally mature territory he or she must stand ready to violate the  assumptions of both of these approaches.  The most powerful way to “bump up” a conversation frequently pays little attention to the content of the conversation.  It focuses instead on moving the prevailing “esthetic” in the room into culturally mature territory.

At the heart of this more process level is being sure that one’s posture as a facilitator embodies the creative whole.  As integrative possibilities present themselves, this “larger” esthetic is then available to “infect” the group process.  Having two or three people in the room who can contribute to this larger esthetic can dramatically enhance integrative possibilities.

More tactically, one wants to facilitate in a way that brings the missing pieces of the creative whole, as they are timely, into the room.  For example, if a group has a tendency toward Separation Fallacies, this might involve slowing the pace of the interaction, making more feeling level statements, being sure everyone has a chance to share at a personal level, bringing more of a sense of flow and poetry to the use of one’s voice, or throwing out the agenda.

If the group has a tendency toward Unity Fallacies, it might involve instead increasing the pace of interaction in the room so there is not time to process everything at a feeling level, ignoring the rule that everyone must have a change to share, cutting people off when something said does not increase aliveness, making strongly challenging assertions, or ignoring a squeaky wheel rather than listening to hurt feelings (or even ejecting someone from the group who is an obstacle to Aliveness).

The culturally mature facilitator knows how to use one-ness and two-ness in elaborate interplay to maximize room for creative possibilities.  Groups are rarely conscious at this level of “intervention,” yet it is here that the foundation stones for integrative possibilities are set.  A facilitator can have the fanciest bag of integral ticks imaginable at a content level, but if things aren’t taken care of at a process level, such tricks will be to no avail. People respond more to what is happening in the room than to what is said.

The tasks of Culturally Mature Facilitation at process level can be usefully visualized in terms of the polar realities that define directive leadership on one hand and traditional liberal facilitation on the other:

 left handed facilitation                       right handed facilitation

being in the moment———————————clear goals

inclusion———————————————————distinct boundaries

consensus decision-making——————delineated authority


following the process——————————following the agenda


experiential time—————————————clock time


The culturally mature facilitator holds a larger reality to each of these polarities, is able to recognize when a group is limited by a polar esthetic, and is skilled at breaking “process taboos” to move the room’s underlying esthetic into more culturally mature territory.

Integrative Exercises

The fourth element in good Culturally Mature Facilitation is the use of introductory questions and formal exercises to move a group in an integral direction.  This might involve starting with a highly purpose centered question like: “Looking back at this time from your deathbed, what would you most like to be able to say about the decisions you made here?”  It might involve using multiple intelligences to ask a question, for example, using imagery of a moving vehicle to ask the question: “How is your organization doing?”  Or it might involve approaches like doing parts work with polarities or using the CST Personality Typology to expand understanding of the creative whole.

Note that these various types of approach differ in their applicability as integrative levers.  The purpose-centered question can be very provocative, but is also vulnerable to idealized (usually left hand) responses.  Using multiple intelligences can similarly be very powerful, but is vulnerable to be interpreted as just “experiential” and either dismissed as decorative, seen as “touchy feely,” or used to justify a polar identification with feelings against the intellect.  Parts work and work with patterning concepts such as the CST personality typology are less vulnerable to distortion but take more time and sophistication to utilize..

Whenever one is working with a group, one should be asking if there are ways to frame the initial questions, or particular exercises that can be done that will support the group working in culturally mature territory.

Bridging Roles

Culturally Mature Facilitation bridges across a variety of roles:  teacher, leader, facilitator, therapist, participant, and more.  This bridging of roles requires a sensitive touch.  Like the separation of church and state in Late-Axis reality, the distinctions between these various roles have served important purposes.  The facilitator can step across the bounds between them and have his or her actions increase Aliveness only to the degree the facilitation is done from an integrative place and in a way that is highly attuned to the group’s process.

The culturally mature facilitator’s roles can change quickly—from one sentence to the next.  For example, when I work, sometimes I’m what could appear to be a fairly traditional didactic teacher.  At other times my posture is not unlike an equally traditional positional leader in saying here is were are going and here is how I’m going to try to get us there.  Sometimes I’m more like a facilitator in the traditional sense, setting up exercises or processes and then getting out of the way, letting others provide the content while I look after process.  Often, like a therapist, I push the process, ask probing questions, challenge a person as to whether a statement is large enough, or offer interpretive reflections.  Frequently I’m simply a participant, engaging with the group in some process of co-exploration.

As with all bridgings in an integrative reality, this bridging across roles represents much more that a dissolving of old role distinctions.  It requires much greater discrimination not less.  One must know how to hold traditional boundaries clearly and know why they have been important if one is to effectively step beyond them.  And one must have a keen sensitivity to such things as the group’s purpose, where the group is in its development, and the capacitances and personality biases of the group members to know what kinds of roles are best used when and how they can be effectively used in concert.

It is important to recognize that one can bridge these roles in major ways only to the degree there is the potential for integral functioning in the room.  If there is not, the group will be pushed beyond its capacitance and polarize in relation to the facilitator. This polarization may be primarily right-handed—for example, someone becoming angry with the facilitator for offering content or confrontation when the facilitator is supposed to be impartial.  Or it may be more left-handed—for example, the group losing its own boundaries and becoming silly or trapped in New Age or liberal Unity Fallacies (with the leader either colluding with the group against a phantom image of authority or becoming in the eyes of the group that rigid authority).

Culturally Mature Facilitation requires a keen sensitivity to both when a question requires an integrative response and whether a group has sufficient Capacitance for such a response.  None of the approaches above define “good” facilitation.  Rather, they are approaches that become applicable (indeed necessary) at a certain level of functioning.  If they are used when that level of functioning is not possible or needed, they can harm rather than help.

If a system lacks sufficient Capacitance to work in culturally mature territory around a particular question, the first question the culturally mature facilitator needs to ask is, Does it need to?  If the answer is yes, the next question becomes, Is there a way to move the system into culturally mature territory (whether by “jamming” at a content level, working more integratively at a process level, or altering the makeup of the group)?  If none of these approaches appear sufficient and an integrative perspective is necessary, often the culturally mature facilitator’s difficult but essential work is to disband the group and reconstitute it in a form adequate to the task.

Bridging Personal and Impersonal

Culturally Mature Facilitation is both more personal and less personal than the more  “humanistic” approaches we are used to associating with the word facilitation.  Humanistic facilitation appears very personal.  It emphasizes process, makes sure that feelings are heard, and tries to find resolution and closure where feelings may be conflicted.  Culturally Mature  Facilitation easily appears much less personal.  While it often looks very much like more traditional facilitation, at other times it confronts and challenges.  Sometimes it cuts people off or ignores the pain or confusion someone may be experiencing in the moment.

But in fact Culturally Mature Facilitation is more personal.  The personal approaches of humanistic facilitation are formulaic—each person shares and is listened to and one works until there is resolution (traditional facilitation is a liberal, different-strokes-for-different-folks endeavor).  Culturally Mature  Facilitation demands a much keener and more personal sensitivity: to where each person in the group is at—their Capacitance, their temperament, there relationship to the group as a creative process, and their unique gifts and blindnesses.

At the same time, there is a way that Culturally Mature Facilitation is more “impersonal.”  Its referent is frequently larger than the individual and certainly larger than characters within individuals.  The notion that all feelings should be shared and the end goal is resolution has its timeliness, but as a formula it all too frequently results in a “squeaky wheel gets the grease” dynamic that reduces the group as process to the Capacitance of its weakest member.  Such misplaced “personal sensitivity” sacrifices the Aliveness of the group for the individual (something that is a gift to no one, least of all the individual—it is never a gift to another to allowed them to do harm).  On top of this, most often it is a sacrificing of the individual to the dictates of a frightened inner character, something we are vulnerable enough to on our own without the help of our “friends.”

Culturally Mature Facilitation requires both greater receptivity and openness, and greater expressivity and boundary sophistication than traditional facilitation.  It requires both a deepened caring and sensitivity and a expanded capacity and willingness to make tough decisions and say things that may make people uncomfortable.

Integrative Referents

At the heart of Culturally Mature Facilitation is an expansion in the referent we use in making facilitation decisions.

The ultimate purpose of Culturally Mature Facilitation is to increase the pertinent system’s potential for Aliveness in a way that is right and timely to the situation.  This may include such things a reaching a goal, getting along, or finding consensus.  And it may not.

The biofeedback the culturally mature facilitator uses to make decisions requires a very sensitive and sophisticated ear.  In an integrative reality, truth is highly relative, in both time and space.  The activities that will result in an expansion of Capacitance in a group will be different at different stages in its evolution, and this expansion will feel different as well (success at an Early-Axis stage of an endeavor feels very different from success at a later Late-Axis stage).  The situation is similar for activities inhabiting different parts of the Creative Whole (say the manufacturing and marketing parts of an organization) or for processes involving people with different personality styles.

And the question is not just what truth looks and sounds like, but where one should look and listen to find the pertinent truth.  A Creative Systems view argues that in different situations we appropriately focus in quite different places when making discernments, usually combining different layers in reaching our final decisions.

For example, in responding to a piece of art done by a child, our reaction will most often have less do with the piece itself than how our reaction to it effects the growing capacitance of the child.  In a piece done by a famous artist, our reaction will have more to do with the piece itself as art—in part this being a personal reaction, but ultimately it being a response that asks, how does this piece contribute to the psyche of culture as a whole? Looking at a piece developed for use as a logo for an organization, our referent becomes how that piece can contribute to the evolving capacitance of that organization.

Bridging Personality Styles

Really effective Culturally Mature facilitation requires not just an appreciation for personality diversity, but, as well, flexibility in embodying various personality style realities.  Somehow, all the parts of the Creative Whole must feel safe in the room and responded to.  This can’t be accomplished simply with openness or claims of impartiality.  Ultimately it requires that each part of the Creative Whole resonates actively in the facilitator.

Obviously no one can be everything to everyone.  But it is essential that the culturally mature facilitator know what parts of the Creative Whole he or she inhabits easily and what parts are more of a stretch.  One needs to reach out particularly to those personality realities one has a hard time connecting with.  And one must be particularly careful to guard the group against the partialities of those who hold one’s own energetic.  Consciously or unconsciously, people suspect—rightfully—that in the end the facilitator will want to declare victory for the part of the Creative Whole they most readily inhabit.  It must somehow be clear in the room that full diversity is not only OK, but desired, and this achieved without falling for the simple mindedness  of different-strokes-for-different-folks social relativism.

The Role of Content-Specific Expertise

Most often, with more traditional approaches to facilitation, a high degree of expertise in the specific content area a group is working in is not critical.  The group members provide the content expertise.  The facilitator’s job is to be an expert on group process.  He or she needs just enough content expertise to not loose track of what is going on in the conversation.  Indeed, too much content expertise can make it hard for the facilitator to seem objective.

In contrast, Culturally Mature Facilitation generally requires a significant level of knowledge about the realms being discussed.  It is very hard to “jam” effectively around an issues without a pretty good sense of the issue’s territory.

For example, when ICD did a think tank on nuclear waste disposal back in 1992 with some of the most knowledgeable people in the world on nuclear waste issues, there was no way we could have gotten the discussions into fresh territory without a pretty high level of content-specific credibility.  I did a great deal of homework over the six months before the think tank.  But even this would not have been enough.  I teamed up with Tom Engle, an ICD Core Group member who had just recently stepped down as chairman of the University of Washington Department of Chemistry.  With his high degree of content expertise and my knowledge sufficient that I would not embarrass myself terribly, we were able to pull it off quite elegantly.

If it is indeed the case that this is kind of active, hands-on facilitation will be more and more needed in the future, we should see a growing demand for people who can bring a high degree of both content and process expertise to critical conversations—something which at present is a rare combination.

Left-hand and Right-hand Stretching Exercises

Culturally Mature Facilitation ultimately stretches both the left and right hands of more common facilitation approaches.  Because it is highly sensitive to process, promotes deep listening, and often very actively brings the non-rational into the room, it can be confused initially with more left-handed, liberal or humanistic approaches.  At the same time, because it is keenly attuned to boundary issues, requires a willingness to make judgments about capacity as well as style, and is highly “agenda driven” in the sense of pushing for the most creatively potent engagement, it can as easily be confused with more directive approaches.  It is both “harder” and “softer” than most more familiar approaches to facilitation.

Below are two lists of seven “stretching” questions.  The first is for people most comfortable with more “right-hand” biased, directive styles of facilitation and leadership. The second for those who biases tend to lean toward more “left-hand,” process-oriented approaches.  Think of these questions as tests to help you see where your particular creative edges lie.

If you find difficulties with a number of questions on one list, this is important information.  Without some attention, you will find yourself vulnerable to people caught in fallacies to that hand (actually either hand, because people caught in an opposite fallacy may polarize off of you), and significantly limited if getting into culturally mature territory requires very active jamming.

Seven questions for right-handers:

1) How comfortable are you with letting go of traditional roles, boundaries, and hierarchies when this might result in the most creative interaction.

2) How good are you at letting there be silence in a room?

3) How good are you engaging a group around personal as well as abstract or organizational questions?  Around questions that might involve spiritual, ethical, or esthetic concerns?

4) How comfortable are you with letting go of preset agendas and going in unexpected directions when needed?

5) How good at you at bringing the imagination, the feeling dimension, or the intelligence of the body into situations where the intellect would normally predominate?

6) Do you value deep listening as much as articulate speaking and how are your skills at supporting deep listening in a group?

7) Are you able to appreciate, support, and protect when needed, the contributions of people with quieter, more artistic, or more feeling-based sensibilities.

Seven questions for left-handers:

1) Can you, when needed, convene groups where the membership is highly selective, where you might be criticized for being “elitist,” not “open” and “inclusive”?

2) Can you, when needed, strongly state—and support others in stating—not just positions of difference, but positions asserting greater and lesser value?

3) Can you effectively “bump up” conversations that have gotten trapped in left-handed fallacies—either conceptually or at a process level?

4) In situations where there is significant capacitance difference between group members, are you able, while attempting to bring everyone on board, to also protect the group against it’s lower capacitance members defining the group’s process and potential?

5) Are you able to remove people from a group (fire people in a business context) if members are getting in the way of a group’s ability to move forward and you are not able to help them contribute positively?

6) Can you make discernments about not just differences in temperament, but also, to the best of your ability, about differences in capacitance, without at some level feeling “bad” for doing this, feeling “judgmental” or uncaring?

7) Are you able to appreciate, support, and protect when needed, the contributions of people with more intellectual, extroverted, or material sensibilities.