by Susan Grove
As a student and practitioner of facilitation, it delights me that in this new model of working together, we are developing our process consciousness. One of the ways I think of facilitation is as a practice, and a discipline, of doggedly pursuing a sense of clarity about where a group can and wants to go, and of intentionally planning a (or several) ways to get there. When we embarked on this journey, we realized that if we wanted to honor all voices and perspectives, we couldn’t default to an implicit way of having discussions, but would instead need to make conscious choices about doing meetings differently. I had an experience of this early on where I could feel a distinct difference in the way we shared power.
The word proposal is a big part of our vocabulary now. One of the first times we practiced our new consent decision-making process, we did so with a simple proposal to extend the length of the next meeting. When it was time to react to the proposal, I spoke first and talked about the overwhelming amount of other things on my plate at the moment and the time I needed to prepare for one of the next meeting’s agenda items. I was basically signalling that I objected to extending the meeting. In a typical meeting, others would have spoken up – or remained silent – in a random order. Comments would have most likely been shaped by what I shared first. I might have expected the proposal for a longer meeting to be simply quashed fairly quickly.
But we had chosen a different process, and proceeded around the circle to hear each voice. Per our process, rather than adjusting her reaction based on what I shared, the next person commented on the original proposal and affirmed our shared need for more meeting time. As the process unfolded and balanced our voices, I could clearly feel how there can often be power attached to the perspective of the person who speaks first, and, in this case, how the process we had chosen to practice diminished that. In the few minutes it took to complete the circle, an amended proposal emerged to lengthen the meeting and postpone the agenda item I was concerned about having enough time to prepare for. Sharing power led us to a better, co-created proposal that met all needs – mine and ours – and we all consented to it.
Before this experience, I believed that process matters a great deal. Since this experience, I think back to it as a touchstone, reminding me that sharing power can at first feel like giving up influence, but it can create more potential for an outcome that satisfies the whole. And whether or not the outcome ends up satisfying my own needs, giving up some influence to practice shared values seems like a worthwhile trade-off.