This is perhaps the most difficult of my conversations about Group Facilitation to actually put into words. There is an almost metaphysical quality to this topic. In my experience over the last 26 years (especially as my experience has increased), any group conversation about any topic develops a flow. By this, I mean that the group begins to find a path that will typically lead it to an outcome that is acceptable to most (sometimes, even all) of those involved. Sometimes it’s obvious by the ideas that go up on the flip chart. Sometimes those ideas are merely markers on the road to that destination. Although the flow originates with the group, I can influence and facilitate the flow by acting or refraining from acting at key points in the conversation. The flow leads group members to have “aha” moments that resonate with other group members – even some that have been their historic opponents. Once the flow has been established, it’s hard to resist.
As a Denver Group Facilitator, I can use my skills and techniques to help the group members move with the flow and alter it as is right for them. The judicious use of a reframe or a summary or consolidation statement (“you’re basically saying…” or “the point you’ve just identified is…”) can be the key for the group to move from one idea or conclusion to another along the flow. Just as often, if I have helped the group members create their own safe space, I can just get out of their way and let them move along the flow from idea to idea. All I then need to do is use that flip chart to capture those essential markers that define the flow.
In my mind, I conceive the flow of the group as a braided stream, with divergent rivulets joining and separating from each other along the way, continually collecting more inputs, until they all unite into the bigger flowing stream that leads to consensus. Sometimes that consensus is elusive and even impossible to reach, and the stream diverges again – that major flow is lost. However, with a group that meets many times, the flow can be easier to find as time goes on. Even if the flow never fully captures the group, those markers along the way (remember that flip chart) are not lost, and some progress lingers.
When doing Group Facilitation, I have to remember that the process (facilitating the flow) is my job – not the agreement (the place where all of those divergent streamlets merge together). The full manifestation of the flow of the group is the responsibility of the individual group members, and their collective efforts define it. There is great satisfaction when I can ride the flow of the room with the group and arrive at a consensus that none of us could have imagined when we started the journey.