Dreaming of Transition: sharing assumptions

There’s a joke amongst facilitators that groups of facilitators are the hardest to work with.

Last week’s Transition Network’s Dreaming Circle saw 24 facilitators drawn from diverse cultures and facilitation approaches come together to talk groups. It was an immensely creative space, but inevitably there were things that could have worked better. Apologies in advance for concentrating on the “could do betters”. It’s where I do most of my learning.

Here’s a couple of things that stood out for me….

The common thread is making assumptions. Every group does it, and it’s a stumbling block to good process in groups. We make assumptions about what the group believes. We make assumptions on the process the group will use. We make assumptions on what the group wants to achieve. We make assumptions about what the group knows or understands. Usually these are based on what we as individuals believe, know, understand, want to achieve, and the processes we are familiar with. Making some of these things explicit early in the life of a group can save a lot of pain later.

What it means to facilitate:

In the Dreaming Circle group we didn’t do that explicit work. At one point on the second day there was open conflict involving facilitators wanting to move a process on, a participant not yet ready to move on, and others in the group unhappy at how the conflict was being expressed, and the patterns it might set if left unchallenged. In the debrief of the incident one key contributing factor was different parties’ understanding of what it means to facilitate.

Our facilitators (from Transition Network) were, consciously or unconsciously working to a model that required them to take responsibility to move the process along. This clashed with another take on their role (drawn from process work) – simply to name what was going on in the group, but not to attempt to do anything about it. That was for the group to decide. The issue wasn’t whether one model was right or wrong but that these assumptions had never been articulated and shared with the group. A useful reminder to all of us to ask a group, nice and early, how they see our role as facilitators.

Do you speak facilitator?

Every group of people has a certain amount of their own language – in other words, jargon. Facilitators aren’t exempt. What I feel that we should be exempt from, however is assuming that everyone shares our jargon or at least understands it in the same way. There were regular requests for clarification of terms such as ‘pattern language‘, and ‘constellation’.

It felt like this was one area in which the group was less successful in learning and modifying its behaviour, at least in the 2 days I was there. After so many requests we really ought to have been taking greater care to check out the assumptions in the language we used. It’s hard – when you speak these words so often, and when they’re part of your identity as ‘facilitator’, but it needed to be done.

A concern that I have about this ingrained jargon is that we might carry it with us when we work with groups who are not facilitators, and embed it into our training materials, embedding the assumption that it’s universally understood with it.

“What assumptions am I making?” is a powerful question. And the Dreaming Circle has reminded me to ask it all the more often Inevitably I’ve made some in this post, so feel free to point them out.


4 thoughts on “Dreaming of Transition: sharing assumptions

  1. Thanks to the link for “pattern language” – useful. “Constellation”? in this context?

    Hidden assumptions do indeed need to be made explicit. In my experience (limited) the time taken on this can frustrate the (over) confident and (over) familiar. And a glossary of terms and hand signals and so on is only useful if people actually take it on board (I remember not knowing for several meetings what the ‘clapping’/I agree handsignal meant, because no-one explained what it meant…

    All best

    • Constellation…. hmm, I thought I had it nailed down, but when I came to write the post I realised that I couldn’t define it clearly. That’s a pretty sure sign I didn’t really understand it and reinforces the need for these terms to be explained clearly! I had hoped no-one would call me on it and expose my ignorance…

  2. Hi Rhizome, I quite agree about it being tricky facilitating a group of facilitators.

    It is the assumptions that get you.

    I run a real group (one where we actually meet) called Consultants Anon in the UK. This is a continuing professional development group designed to keep us all sharp and current. Keeping the facilitation fresh is something I constantly work at. One of the ideas that has worked is to rotate the facilitaor role in the sessions and I encourage members to take over this role at different times within our morning sessions.

    This gives me time to watch and learn from others rather than bask in the assumtion that I’m perfect (well nearly!) I’ve learned an awful lot from this approach


  3. I was recently alerted by Luk Peters to another kind of assumption in groups – which is assumptions we make about what the group expects of us (whatever our role in the group). On writing these assumptions (or fantasies) down I realised just how much behaviour is influenced by what we believe others expect us to do. Whether or not it is useful to try bringing out such assumptions/fantasies at the very beginning (or at any time) is another question.

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