• Sherry P. Johnson

Never Trust a Single Perspective When it Comes to Context, Either

In an earlier post, I shared that in the world of facilitation, it's tempting to rely on the word of one person when creating a group process and why a team approach is more effective. Again, a facilitator's primary job is tailoring a group process to its purpose and context. These two things govern all our decisions before, during, and after a facilitated event, and both are wholly dependent on multiple perspectives at all times. This time, I'll focus on context.

An effectively facilitated event depends on knowing an organization's context. When I say, "context," here's what I mean. It's best to have a few clues about an organization's:

  • View of its past. What's its "origin story"?

  • Actual past. What chronological events have impacted it, internally and externally?

  • View of itself in this moment. What's its "identity story"?

  • Different views within itself. Where do its origin and identity stories converge and diverge among internal stakeholders?

  • Different views outside itself. Where do its origin and identity stories converge and diverge among external stakeholders?

  • Itch, longing, or restlessness. In the context of its mission, in what direction(s) are folks anxious to move?

  • Resistance. What's holding the mission back?

  • Energy. Where is its energy flowing, and where is it stagnant? What is emerging, providing stability, or dying?

  • Fuel. What sustains it, in concrete and abstract senses?

  • Culture. What is the dominant culture of the group? Its implicit rules and biases? What other cultures are present, and how do they cross-pollinate with the dominant one?

  • Network and outliers. Who trusts whom? Who works hard for whom? Where does information flow, and where does it get trapped? Who gets consistently left out, and what's lost from that?

Facilitators work with a core team to tailor a process to the purpose and context.

By now, you can probably see why no single convener of a group would be able to give a facilitator clues for all of these. Ideally, good facilitators create opportunities to pick up clues from multiple perspectives on all of the above. Web research is nice, interviews are helpful, but a core team of 2-3 organizational representatives is ideal for a major facilitated event. A core team allows a facilitator to get corroborated, culturally rich clues about the organization.


I'll write later about the gift of co-facilitation when it comes to multiple perspectives, but for now, let us bask in the joy of times we've gotten to know a group before working with them.

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