Sherry P. Johnson
Three Signs You're Facilitating an Analyst... And What to Do About It
The Analyst: Ever heard of “analysis paralysis”? People with this orientation introduce a lot complexity, particularly in the form of “what if” scenarios. "Devil's Advocate" is a favorite role here, and dissent is habitual. While they bring thoughtful and necessary push-back, over-thinking can derail a group fast.
This is Part 3 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 Analyst’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 providing depth and foresight.
How do you know when you’ve got an Analyst in your midst, and how can you respond?
1. Everyone will feel the Analyst’s investigative energy. They’ve got lots of questions and concerns they want the group to address. They have a need for clear and plentiful variables and thoughtful debate. When those needs aren’t met, they can become resistant or withdrawn. Their investigations can sometimes stymie decision-making, especially if the group hasn’t brought enough data, or reviewed it beforehand. Particularly aggressive Analysts will sometimes ask off-topic or even unreasonably complex questions designed to embarrass those they believe are oversimplifying a problem facing the group.
Disperse deep thinking with graduated participation. For in-depth discussion, begin with individual thinking in the form of journaling, meditation, silence, listing, or drawing. Then, if time allows, move to one-on-ones for processing individual thoughts before sharing with a small group or the whole. This will allow the Analyst to ensure investigative energy spreads through the group without allowing rational thought to overpower intuitive and experiential knowledge.
Use data visualization. Always be adding ways to visualize data and interrelationships to your repertoire. Collaborative analysis of visuals can help everyone contribute to analysis. A caution: Never employ a method without knowing and being ready to explain its limitations; oversimplification will sideline (or infuriate) an analyst.
Ask critical questions. Make your questions hard, particularly in the Interpretive phases of the process. Introduce concepts the group must wrestle with, paying attention to anything the conveners indicated were typical blind spots for the group in their design conference.
2. Analysts can paralyze their groups. Participants can catch the spirit of deep inquiry and produce multiple, vetted ideas–sometimes causing the group to get stuck in patterns and details, or in numerous meetings between efforts to seek more data. Some groups shut down and let the Analyst do all the thinking, and as with the Inventor, allow them to monopolize the conversation.
Raise the curtain on your process. Get agreement on the agenda before launching your process. Right away, let the group know how your process choices support their desired outcomes. This will head off attempts to hijack the meeting when analysis paralysis would otherwise occur, in reminding the group what its desired outcome was.
Evaluation is your friend. Be ready to ask the group when a decision is “good enough” to move forward. Establishing an evaluation process with the steering committee beforehand–or scheduling a meeting to plan one with the group–will calm the fears of Analysts. It’s also a good idea to signal your openness to evaluation with an interview or survey process before and after your facilitation.
Look at your questions. Make sure they invite the right balance of rational and intuitive thinking at appropriate times. Practice answering them to check this.
3. Analysts ensure high-quality results. Despite potential pitfalls, their presence is key to helping groups think deeply and discard unrealistic or simplistic options. They will make sure participants use critical thinking and bring their full intelligence to an issue. Multiple implications and potential problems surrounding decisions come forward for the group to consider before initiating solutions. Their discontent with quick, unexamined decisions can make them great allies in strategy work.
Start with context. In addition to working with a steering committee, it’s always preferred to begin with data collection and sharing of results with participants. In addition to typical surveys and interviews, use collaborative environmental scanning processes for assessing an organization’s history & culture or current trends around a group’s work. Analysts are right to make sure decisions 1) are grounded in reality, and 2) don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.
Start with agreement on data. Be ready to discontinue a meeting if the participants haven’t reviewed necessary data beforehand. Don’t try to be that high school English teacher who kept lecturing about the chapter no one read during holiday break. It’s a waste of everyone’s time, and the Analyst will never forgive you for it.