Stand to deliver and sit to process

Stand and deliver – not where I am going

I recently had an email from a colleague in Queensland inquiring about a piece of advice I had given some years during a training session on group facilitation. Two thoughts came to mind: firstly, how influential we can be in what we say and how these ideas can be enduring over time, and secondly, that meaning and reasons for practice can be lost over time. These are the two key questions that were posed with my response below.

  1. What is the thinking behind using a horseshoe rather than a circle when deciding upon the seating of the group, and
  2. Why stand to present ideas and new information and sit to process.

By way of introduction to answering the questions I want to say something about the context of my work. It is in the family violence and criminal justice area. You could rightly assume that the issue of adhering to boundaries and the required social skills to be able to participate in a pro-social manner within these groups, may at times be challenging. It is. My response therefore is contextual where the facilitators needs to firstly, create a safe working environment (trust and safety are two major issues for many of the men I work with), and secondly, to maintain this safety through processes where group members can rehearse a different behaviour while in the session.

My response to the first question is that the horseshoe with the facilitators on each end provides the most visual connection between the facilitators and with the group members, which is more difficult when sitting in a circle. Many participants in groups dealing with offending behaviour struggle with pro-social behaviours. Group work with those who have offended is based around exploring ways to manage interaction between group members. I think it is useful and important that facilitators maintain a position of authority in the group (particularly in the early stages where new norms are being formed and explored), as they are responsible ultimately for safety within the group. When the group gets messy, then it becomes unsafe. I do use a circle for a closing round in the group as this can create greater intimacy during periods of reflection.

The horseshoe also allows better visual connection with the whiteboard if this is used at the front of the room. The facilitator challenge is to decide where they want the focus in the group to be. I would not be too concerned if group members drift to what is on the board or walls (I am also a firm believer is active adult learning processes for group practice). Attending fully is a skill and it is the role of the facilitator to invite the group members to remain focused around a particular activity. In my experience when discussion goes on for too long in the whole group, then this is the time when group members will distract and drift off.

The second issue raised was around the position we take and how we shift energy in the group. I am of the opinion (and this might be cultural issue) is to stand to present ideas and information and sit the process. This does shift the dynamic in the group; it is meant to. It does make the facilitator more authoritative in what they are saying by providing a shift in energy and importance around what is being presented. The question facilitators need to explore is how to provide distinction in terms of information that they want group participants to really get. Standing shifts the energy, while providing a sense of difference from processing information to content.

Ultimately facilitators will need to decide on their own style of facilitation and also the nature of the group. If for example I am running a purely therapy group, then I may sit in a circle as this will be based on conversation. However, we all know that it requires significant social competency to be able to maintain focus and interest in a whole group conversation for more than about 15 minutes. I am also mindful that I want group members to be able to present their ideas into the group. When we ask them to stand to do this, it also means they have to practice the life skill of being able to synthesise ideas and articulate these in a straightforward manner so that others can understand their viewpoint. When we stand it gives our ideas more authority and in my experience, more thoughtfulness to what is being spoken.

You may have different ideas to me so I would love to hear your thoughts.

Published on Saturday, November 10th, 2012, under Learning & development, Practice tips and techniques

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