#231 from R&D
Innovator Volume 5, Number 8
a Facilitative Leader
Dr. Schwarz is
professor of public management and government, University of North
Carolina, Chapel Hill and has his own consulting practice (phone
919-932-3343). He is
author of The Skilled
Wisdom for Developing Effective Groups (Jossey Bass, San
To generate the
extra creativity and productivity that will give their
organization a competitive advantage, many leaders try to empower
employees and create self-managing and learning teams.
These approaches to change, however, are destined to fail
unless the role of the leaders also change.
So what kind of leaders are needed?
authoritarian leader who unilaterally controls situations and
forces others to comply with his or her demands can’t create the
environment needed to sustain these changes.
Authoritarian leadership saps the intrinsic motivation that
is the lifeblood of creativity.
heroic leadership has found a following in many organizations.
Heroic leaders paint a vivid and compelling picture of the
organization’s mission and vision. Heroic leaders inspire and persuade others to help create the
leader’s vision. To
be sure, this kind of leadership energizes members and can
accomplish a lot. But
the strengths of heroic leadership are also its weaknesses.
With heroic leadership, the source of wisdom, direction,
and inspiration is the leader.
Yet, to create the kind of fundamental changes that
organizations are now seeking, they need a type of leadership
which, paradoxically, doesn’t focus on the leader per se, but
instead focuses on the leader helping the team become more
effective. I call
this facilitative leadership.
leadership is designed to create teams and organizations where
people can talk openly and honestly about the difficult issues
needing to be discussed. Facilitative
leadership solves problems in a way that takes into account many
people’s interests, not just the leader’s.
It replaces quick-fix solutions, that soon fall apart, with
solutions that genuinely solve problems.
As a result, facilitative leadership leads people to take
responsibility and ownership for their actions.
Finally, it enables teams to learn from their experiences.
We’ll look at the core values and some ground rules that
guide facilitative leadership, and how facilitative leaders create
Every leader has
a set of core values that guide his or her behavior.
The core values are like computer operating software; they
work quickly and out of awareness, but they influence everything
the leader does. The
core values help leaders quickly decide how to deal with
situations such as whether to give a boss negative feedback, or to
ask his management team whether they see problems with his
proposal. The three
core values of facilitative leadership are:
Free and informed choice
When people share
valid information, they share all the information relevant
to that problem. This
includes information that differs from their point of view as well
as information that supports it.
For example, if you believed that R&D should not be
pursuing a particular strategy, but also knew that there were some
good reasons for pursuing it, you would share them, rather than
wait for others to raise them.
Valid information is also specific and independently
confirmable. Stating that there are a number of complaints from other
departments about R&D’s responsiveness is not valid
information because no one can independently confirm such a
general statement. If,
however, you provide the names and specific nature of the
complaints, those could be confirmed.
enable others to make free and informed choices, it means that
people can define their own objectives and the methods they use
for achieving them and that their choices are based on valid
information. When people make free choices, they are not coerced or
commitment occurs when people feel personally responsible for
their decisions. As a
result they are committed to do whatever is needed to get the job
done. If members are
committed to generating valid information, they will also continue
to seek new information relevant to their decisions, in order to
revisit decisions if new information warrants it.
Most leaders are
likely to say that they believe in getting all the relevant
information out on the table, in letting people freely make up
their minds, and in building genuine commitment, rather than
compliance, to decisions.
But almost all
leaders’ and team members’ core values differ from those they
espouse. They fail to
see the difference, as well as how they produce the opposite of
the very results they strive to create.
This is especially true when they’re dealing with
high-stakes situations or ones that are potentially embarrassing
or threatening. When
valid information is withheld and team members make less than
fully informed choices, they may later state that they wouldn’t
have agreed to a decision had they known what others knew, but
didn’t share. Consequences
follow; for instance, team members may no longer agree to support
the decision. Or,
they may say they agree, but then undermine it.
Acting consistent with the three core values is the
foundation for effective leadership.
I developed a set
of ground rules, based on the core values, which describe specific
behaviors for effective groups:
Test assumptions and inferences.
Share all relevant information.
Focus on interests, not positions.
Be specific—use examples.
Agree on what important words mean.
Explain the reasons behind you statements, questions, and
Disagree openly with any member of the group.
Make statements, then invite questions.
Jointly design ways to test disagreements and solutions.
Discuss undiscussable issues.
Keep the discussions focused.
Don’t make cheap shots or otherwise distract the group.
All members are expected to participate in all phases of
Exchange relevant information with non-group members.
Make decisions by consensus.
Institute of Government
now discuss how to use three of the ground rules.
(For a brief description of all of these ground rules,
request Ground Rules for Effective Groups, available from
the Institute of Government; phone 919-966-5381.)
Assumptions and Inferences.
This ground rule requires that facilitative leaders and
team members test assumptions and inferences that they make. An assumption is something one takes for granted; an
inference is a conclusion one reaches about something that is
unknown based on something that is known.
For example, when we look down the street and see smoke
rising, we may infer that there is a fire, even though we don’t
see a fire.
The problem with
assumptions and inferences is not that we make them.
We must make assumptions and inferences to deal with the
hundreds of small decisions needed to get through the day.
The problem is that we make assumptions and inferences
without being aware that we’re making them, believe them to be
true without testing whether they’re true, and act on them as if
they are true. When
decisions or actions are based on invalid assumptions or
inferences, they are based on invalid information.
Leaders and team members are more likely not to test their
inferences and assumptions when the situation is potentially
threatening or embarrassing.
Unfortunately, these are often the very situations in which
the consequences of not testing assumptions and inferences are
assumptions and inferences, the facilitative leader follows a
two-step process. First,
the leader tells the other member the behavior observed that led
to make an inference, and then tests to see if the other person
has made the same observation.
For example, the leader might say, “Dan, a minute ago,
when I said that we would have to stop the project, you said,
‘that’s classic corporate.’
Am I right?” Assuming
the other person agrees, the leader moves to the second
step—sharing his or her inference.
Here the leader might say, “Dan, I’m inferring from
what you said that you think corporate pulls its support before a
project has had a chance to show results.
Am I inferring correctly?”
After testing the inference, the team can decide what needs
to be done depending on whether the inference is accurate.
All Relevant Information.
Sharing all relevant information means that leaders and
team members share all information that might affect how people
think or feel about the issue the team is discussing.
This requires members to also share information that
doesn’t support the decision they favor.
For example, during a discussion about how to allocate
resources, a team member who favors a particular approach would
also be required to share any information he or she has that would
indicate potential problems with using that approach.
ground rule ensures that all members have the same valid
information to make decisions.
Underlying this ground rule is the assumption that as team
members share a common base of information they are better able to
make higher quality decisions to which members are committed.
on Interests, Not Positions.
This ground rule enables team members to address their
interests and reach consensus, even when they hold incompatible
positions on an issue. Interests
are the basic needs, desires and concerns that members have
regarding how a specific problem is solved.
Positions are solutions that members take to meet their
on interests is important because often team members’ interests
are compatible even when their positions are in conflict.
simple example: if a
team is deciding on a deadline to write a report, one member may
suggest an earlier deadline (a position) because he has another
project beginning soon, for which he needs to be available (an
interest). A second
team member may suggest a later deadline because she is currently
involved in another project and will not have time to write the
report over the next two weeks.
By focusing on interests, the team might decide that the
team member who is currently busy on another project can write a
later part of the report and the other team member can write an
earlier part of the report. In
this way, the team arrives at a solution that meets the different
team members’ interests.
To reach team
consensus, a decision must typically meet the interests of all
team members. Yet,
there’s a natural tendency for each member to move immediately
from identifying the problem to suggesting a solution that meets
his or her interests, without first discussing these interests.
By helping the team follow this ground rule, members can
begin discussing their interests underlying the problem before
they generate alternative solutions.
After they have identified and discussed their interests,
they seek solutions that meet all of the interests.
If members prematurely suggest solutions, the leader can
help them re-focus on interests by asking what interests are met
by the proposed solution. In
cases where team members aren’t able to develop a solution that
meets all the interests, then team members can discuss which, if
any, interests are most important.
the Core Values and Ground Rules
leaders use the core values and the sixteen ground rules to help
their team become increasingly effective.
When introducing them to a team, the team needs time to
discuss them, understand their implications, and agree to use them
as is, or to modify them. To
use the ground rules most effectively, the entire team should
consent to using them. It
is inconsistent with the core values to force the ground rules
upon a team. If a
team has agreed to follow the ground rules, they can use them more
effectively if they post the list, and frequently refer to the
ground rules, so that they become part of the team’s norms.
Over time, teams generate the ability to facilitate and
lead themselves, which is a major goal of facilitative leadership.