Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Facilitative leadership ground rules

Young, 2015, after Schwarz, 2002
In a previous post (Facilitative leadership), I explored Schwarz's facilitative leadership model and its components (2002).

However, Schwarz also outlined nine ground rules to which agreement is necessary before starting to make a facilitative leadership environment work:
  1. "Test assumptions and inferences": using Argyris (2004) five step Ladder of Inference for trying to work out what is really going on in your situation. Ask yourself (a) What should I do? (b) What is making X do this? (c) What does it mean? (d) What data do I include/exclude? (e) Is there other data I should use? to try to work out what unspoken assumptions are
  2. "Share all relevant information": expanding on (d) and (e) above, sharing all [relevant] information allows us to discuss the 'undiscussables' (see point 8). This data allows us to explore the sacred cows that we either can't articulate due to taboos or cultural blindness (such as workforce data of 5% men and 95% women).
  3. "Use specific examples and agree on what important words mean": talk through all the differences, come to a common place of agreement on what everything that is assumed means.
  4. "Explain your reasoning and intent": explain what underlies your own assumptions and ensure that the organisation then ratifies this. Encourage debate.
  5. "Focus on interests, not positions": don't let personalities or personal interests enter at any point. Focus on what is best for the organisation, not individuals or departments. Keep discussion at a high level, and don't get mired in detail.
  6. "Combine advocacy and inquiry": use curiosity, ask difficult questions, be a four year old and ask "why" six times in a row. Use questioning as a method to get to the nub of problems. Be a broker, negotiate, use diplomacy to find a win:win position - or at least a liveable peace.
  7. "Jointly design next steps and ways to test disagreements": Ensure the process to find the solution comes from within the team. Find ways that avoid letting people hold onto sacred cows or personal positions. Consider allocating roles such as giving alienated followers the role of finding the fishhooks (à la De Bono's thinking hats).
  8. "Discuss undiscussable issues": Ensure that no sacred cow is left unmilked (eg, asking "why are we gendered?" based on the data in 2 above).
  9. "Use a decision-making rule that generates the level of commitment needed": have everyone agree on the outcome and build it into organisational rewards. If you can't get agreement, negotiate back, element by element, until everyone can live with the outcome. 
While this is common sense, unless we think through the issues in a deliberate manner, it is easy to miss key aspects of the process.

Once we have these things sorted, we can then move forward with a facilitative leadership style.

    • Argyris, Chris (2004). Reasons and Rationalizations: The Limits to Organizational Knowledge. UK: Oxford University Press
    • De Bono, Edward (1999). Six Thinking Hats. UK: Penguin 
    • Dourado, Phil (2007). The 60 Second Leader: Everything you need to know about leadership, in 60 second bites. UK: Capstone Publishing Ltd
    • Moore, Thomas L. (2004). Facilitative Leadership: One Approach to Empowering Staff and Other Stakeholders. Library Trends, Summer 2004, Volume 53, issue 1 (pp. 230-237)
    • Schwarz, Roger (2002). The Skilled Facilitator: A comprehensive resource for consultants, facilitators, managers, trainers and coaches (revised edition). USA: Jossey-Bass


  1. Hello, I enjoy reading all of your article. I wanted to write
    a little comment to support you.

  2. Thanks, Anonymous: glad you enjoy them!


Thanks for your feedback. The elves will post it shortly.