It’s about creating contact. Ideas rubbing together, friction, a spark, igniting a flame, erupting into an inferno – a co-created, diversely shaped idea. Innovation. Progress on the path to success. For this contact to happen, humans must engage in behaviors, choose attitudes and believe in mindsets that, I believe, are the hardest for humans to sustain: connection with another person; true listening; genuine collaboration and staying in the here and now of the discussion. Not deflecting, directing or rejecting but being open, curious and connected to themselves and the others in the group.
As a group process facilitator, I have worked with thousands of individuals and groups striving to accomplish a goal, learn a new skill or identify new strategies and opportunities. Time and time again, I see knowledgeable professionals meet in groups, but never become more than the sum of their parts. They use collaboration tools, they follow process flows, they engage in brainstorming sessions but at the end of the day, the sought-after inferno of momentum is more like smoldering disillusionment.
Why? Because working with other humans to accomplish innovative breakthroughs is difficult. It requires us to work at two levels: the content of the task and the peculiarities of the humans involved.
First off, we discuss and engage each other on the level of our subject matter expertise, experience and interest in the topic at hand (engineering, finances, marketing, etc.). We are there to use our expertise to support the group’s goals. That level is complicated, and often gets most of the attention. It’s the work we love to do and why we are together in the first place. It’s where our passion lies and where we believe we can contribute the most.
The second level is the human being inside each of us. We are a group of flawed, insecure, overconfident, partially aware and overly stressed individuals trying to impress, survive, and find joy in the work we are doing. This human level, while given the least attention, is often where the biggest challenges lie in getting the group to become more than the sum of its parts. We get in our own way and in the process, we miss connecting at the human level. Instead of listening to the other and allow ideas to boil like gumbo, we dominate with our single ingredient soup. Instead of participating in a generative discussion building upon the best of each of us, we organize around the loudest voice and leave out the rest. Instead of feeling inspired by our human collaborators, we become resentful of the unfulfilling process.
It is this challenge, the challenge of sustained, present, curious and open human to human contact necessary for truly reaching our potential, where an effective group process facilitator can increase your chances of a collaborative success.
Humans present in the here and now of a moment have access to critical information that is only available in that very moment: their own thoughts, feelings and wants. Human contact in the here and now offers a place to learn, grow, adapt and deepen connection. It is in this sustained connection where hidden potential lies and where unknown possibilities are overshadowed by doubt, bias, story and fear. Those willing to step into the unknown and face ambiguity with courage have access to their potential. Those willing to offer true curiosity, empathy and sincerity can bring out the potential in others. Those willing to find the resilience to make those choices again and again are most likely to lead into the future.