• Sherry P. Johnson

Three Signs You're Facilitating a Doer... And What to Do About It

The Doer: When people with this orientation think they know the best solution, they can get impatient with conversation. Doers want action, and they're tired of fruitless meetings. While their action orientation is vital to any planning process, they can force groups into unproductive conflict and premature decision-making.

This is Part 4 of 4, where we look at different orientations when it comes to meetings: The Researcher, The Inventor, The Analyst, and The Doer. This time we look at The Doer's possible motivations and fears and suggest ways you can not only work with them, but also help them feel seen and capitalize on their gift for ensuring strong resolve and clear outcomes.


How do you know when you’ve got a Doer in your midst, and how can you respond?


1. Everyone will feel the Doer’s vigorous energy. They have a need for getting stuff done, and when those needs aren’t met, they can seem impatient or even cut off discussion. You’ll hear them say things like, “Let’s just try…” and “What needs to happen is…” They often assert their ideas for action right away, especially if they’re in a meeting culture that rewards inefficient or off-topic chatter. Pragmatism is their ultimate value.

  • State the group’s aims. Make sure you share your understanding of the group’s aims right away. Be prepared to negotiate those aims with the group if you or the conveners failed to anticipate the group’s needs in the design conference. This signals to Doers that you’re serious about action.

  • Be prepared to make a case for relationships. The trickiest contexts are those in which the meeting is the work of the group–such as when you’ve been asked to mediate an issue or build trust. Every facilitator must find their own way to clarify aims that are more experiential than pragmatic; I tend to ask the group for evidence of the experiential need from the group during the context. Doing so can help an Doer settle in for doing the work in the moment–rather than getting caught up in “next steps” for after the meeting.

2. Doers can cut off meaningful discussion. Participants can get excited about getting their plan up and running. They can produce lots of potential next steps–sometimes causing the group to ignore innovative thinking or lose touch with their greater context. Some groups even shut down and defer to the Doer’s energy, allowing them to end the conversation prematurely in favor of easy solutions.

  • Consider your philosophy around “parking lots.” Many facilitators use the “parking lot”tool: jotting down off-topic ideas on a specially-prepared flipchart off to the side. The danger of the parking lot is when you use it to hold vague action items for the Doers of the group–before the group has had a chance to fully process the issue. I’ve certainly done this, and I’ve always regretted it. When Doers share premature ideas for action, I now tell them to write it down for consideration as we go. This might sound like, “I’m hearing ideas for next steps, but we’ve got a lot to process first. For those with ideas for action, please write them down so they don’t get lost, and be ready to share them later.” Make a note to acknowledge these lists as the meeting moves into its decision phase.

  • Acknowledge their fears. Especially in planning sessions, it’s a good idea to not only acknowledge past failures of completed actions, but also habits of inaction or avoidance. Ask the group what types of action they tend to avoid, and what they choose to do instead. Oftentimes the most frustrated Doers are those who’ve tried to rally colleagues who’ve failed to deliver on promises. Getting these habits into the open can heal the group.

3. Doers ensure action. Despite potential pitfalls, their presence is key to ensuring things get done. Doers are often your project managers and encouragers. They will make sure the group considers next steps and think about accountability, rather than chasing idea after idea. Their discontent with idle talk makes them great allies in action planning work.

  • Embed accountability in your process. Whenever a group makes a decision to act, always attach it to a name and a due date. Ensure there's a representative to coordinate and hold people accountable. If due dates are fuzzy, plan to have the group report it at the next meeting. Always plan the next meeting date before closing a project planning session. These habits are great for the group’s continued trust– and music to the Doer’s ears.

  • Plan to celebrate and honor hard work. Ask the group how they plan to celebrate and recognize hard workers when the task is done. I miss this opportunity too often in the haze of a long meeting. Remember that the energy established at the end of your meeting not only empowers your Doers; it also energizes the group to begin their first steps right away.

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