Experiences with Dynamic Facilitation

Matthias zur Bonsen, the founder of the All-One-Spirit consulting practice, has been instrumental in bringing trainings in a number of large-group and dialogic methodologies to Germany, including Future Search, Open Space, and Genuine Contact. Since 2005, Matthias has been bringing Jim Rough to Germany to teach Dynamic Facilitation. Matthias himself has also begun teaching DF now. Below is a translation of what some of the graduates of the seminar are saying. The original webpage in German is at http://www.all-in-one-spirit.de/sem/stimmenzudf.htm.

Dr. Jörg Neumann As part of a professional project, I had to lead a "difficult" project meeting. It was about optimizing a process and corresponding allocation of responsibilities with regard to an issue that had long been fraught with conflict. Right at the start of the meeting, I had the idea that Dynamic Facilitation could help here. Following the procedure we had learned, I improvised, hung flip charts with the four thematic categories, and initiated a conversation. At first it was hard to persuade the participants to let themselves be drawn out (so that everyone could be “purged”) and to direct their comments to me, but eventually it became accepted practice. By the end of the meeting there was a really good solution proposal, supported by all participants, which had not been anticipated before. It was a great success, although I just improvised the DF method and thus did not really use it in its cleanest form. But the essential elements were probably present.

Caterine Schwierz The task was demanding: a working group had been in a process for a year or more, with many facilitated meetings, and had not arrived at the desired result. As had been the case all along, it seemed that the goals of the individual group members were completely different and that mutual trust was lacking. The group pulled the emergency brake and sought a new approach. Then I came in to the game with Dynamic Facilitation. Within three working meetings, this allowed us to build trust, create a common goal, and adopt action items. Today the group is working to accomplish objectives with motivation and enjoyment. This experience showed me how, with the help of Dynamic Facilitation, it is possible to slice through a big Gordian knot with little effort.

Silvia Gysel
The 15-member team of an NPO in eastern Switzerland needs to give their comittment to the dissolution of three field offices and work out the possibilities for implementation. "Dynamic Facilitation" is the solution. The effect was brilliant. Acceptance and comittment grow, the team comes together emotionally, and in a short time a solution is born for implementating the restructuring project.

Simone Bögeholz, Phoenix Contact
In the meantime, I have finally had the opportunity to facilitate using Dynamic Facilitation. It was a great experience! With the help of the method, the group was able to take a big step forward with regard to a very complex and at times obscure topic. The process is ongoing, and with every meeting, Dynamic Facilitation brings us greater clarity. I want to thank you again for this method and for the successful momentum in your seminar.

Ruediger Lekschas, Hamburger Sparkasse
We tried out Dynamic Facilitation with an "entangled situation" and achieved a great result. We had a real breakthrough! It was good that my colleague and I had attended the seminar.

Alex Rall, PricewaterhouseCoopers Dynamic Facilitation has really brought me further. This is due in part to the mediated structure of DF, especially how it changes the role of moderator into becoming a human 'talking stick'. The moderator stands close to each person, gives each one his or her full attention, listening, writing and asking until the participant is 'empty' - you could also say 'receptive to new ideas'. I have often seen how in the course of the process, the faces of the participants visibly relax, and a certain calm quiet arises, characterized by appreciation and a creative atmosphere. This is what I've experienced in all types of settings: team development, conflict resolution, strategy development, but also in highly technically oriented settings. Since then, I try as often as possible to make myself into a 'living Talking Stick' whenever I facilitate, as I learned to do in Dynamic Facilitation.

Karin Reuter Thank you for teaching Dynamic Facilitation in Germany last year. It was a great seminar and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I remember how you said "Imagine me being in tears watching you performing great in Dynamic Facilitation!". And so this past October and November, you must have been in tears… I was stunned about the success of my second Dynamic Facilitation experience. Maybe you want to hear the story:

A manufacturing company of approximately 300 employees hired my partner Astrid and me for consulting a sales department in regard to business processes. In our interviews we heard from all 12 employees the same opinion: "There is a conflict in our group that has been ongoing for almost 4 years. It is not possible to solve it." I took a chance for my second DF and invited the group to an "experiment". I said I would like to get some ideas from them about how this conflict might be treated. Also, I said I am convinced there is a chance to get back to a good working climate as they had years ago. Then I explained the four categories and asked "What would you like to talk about?". One usually rather quiet guy finally started with the superb question "How can we stop that Kindergarten thing?" From then on, it was a great pleasure for me to help the group develop their solution. It took only a little more than an hour for them to get to the conclusion this conflict can be solved by themselves! After that experience I was almost high because I never expected the energy of the group to generate change so fast. After 3 sessions altogether - and some difficulties inbetween - the employees in this group now are cooperative and enjoy working together again. Their feedback as well as the feedback of the management was very good. Best of all, this company is now a reference for us.

Six months later: I did an evaluation 6 months later with the whole group, their boss, the staff manager and the head of the staff association. The staff manager asked, "Could this consulting work be recommended to other departments?" The answer was a reaffirming "yes". The staff associate offered some personal feedback afterwards: "I was not expecting to find this department now working so well together, after all those years when I was constantly having to address problems from them."

Herbert Urmann: I was one of those for whom, by a “fortunate coincidence”, the connection to Dynamic Facilitation had clicked, and therefore I received the gift of being able to use this modality in a very difficult situation with very strong emotional conflicts – to a resounding success: as a result, the group has been able to enter into a productive team development process that everybody wants to continue. This is much more than I (and the participants) had expected. For me it was a great experience.

Isabella Klien:
"It was great, that just prior to the seminar, I had my first experience of DF: I coached two people who had a conflict. The exciting thing was that we went through the all of the phases, just as they are described in the manual. Actually, after an hour we were almost ready to be done, but shortly before that, the "real concern" emerged. It was actually the big breakthrough to a new creative phase, and we then continued on, for another hour. The result was an unexpectedly good solution for both parties."

Jürg Wenger:  During a well-structured Start-workshop on personality training, suddenly a new topic came up, a topic that clearly needed and called for clarification and for a practical way forward: "If we now change as a result of this personality training, but then go back to the "old organization", a great deal, if not almost everything that we have done here, will be dissipated. We need to identify what it is, in the larger organization from which we have come and to which we will return, needs to be urgently and practically changed and improved." I decide to tackle the topic with a Dynamic Facilitation session, preparing flip charts and bulletin boards while giving the participants a short break. Then it begins. While our work increases the energy in the room even further, the commitment of the staff to the foundation of their business is really strong. After two hours, we have identified issues that, in our opinion, constitute some of the major challenges facing this company. This is confirmed the next day in a meeting with the CEO, who has been on board for six months. But let’s tell the story in order.
After this Dynamic Facilitation session, we go to dinner. The waitresses and waiters are hardly able to take our food and beverage orders, as we are still so engrossed in intense conversation. In a very short time we have grown together into a close-knit team, and the participants comment on this with some astonishment and joy. All of the participants decide to hold a short additional after-dinner work-session.
The next day we visit the CEO. Before any of this took place, I had heard that he had a very skeptical perspective with regard to our training. When we give him an overview of our results so far, he is thrilled. He lets go of his prepared presentation, and focuses instead on our issues, and the possibilities and consequences of them being succesfully addressed within the company. He is thrilled, that this group of "ordinary" people has identified the same fundamental business issues, that he had identified during his first six months in the company. Even though he usually comes across to employees and colleagues as a hardliner, he really gets the commitment of these participants and their common focus on real outcomes. He asks us to go into even greater detail on the issues. Today, two months after the workshop, half of the issues that were brought up have already been implemented throughout the entire company, while the other ones are in line for being addressed next. This initiative has created waves in the company - many people are having to change or else lose their position. Not everyone feels the same way about this. The participants still speak about this special experience: •"I've never before experienced a facilitator, being willing to engage so dynamically, with the issues that hold us back ..." •"We were so excited and focused. It was really noticeable, how you took us so seriously, how you wanted to know exactly, what exactly we wanted to say and to express." •"In a short time, we achieved a comprehensive common result. At the same time, we developed a sense of what each other is concerned about, how each one thinks and acts, and whom we can best use for which task ..."

Myriam Mathys
Because the situation was so complicated, right from the customer’s first call the thought came to me, that the best approach would probably be to work with Dynamic Facilitation. And the experiences that I created with this method were really positive - and so I very much wanted to share them with you. The situation involved bringing together two parts of a print shop (key account management and production) with the aim of generating improved cooperation between the two areas. The situation was difficult in that employees were already blaming one another, behaviors had started to sink deep below the belt, and this had apparently caused a lot of injuries particularly at the Production Planning interface between the two departments ("If they were gone, the problem would be solved! "). It was clearly a situation in which nobody really believed that there could be a solution and the emotional climate had shrunk to zero. The workshop began with a welcome and an introduction round, that already showed how many participants wanted more harmony at work. And then I shifted the circle into a semicircle. Everything worked according to plan. As I suspected, the Dynamic Facilitation process took, not just two or three hours, but the whole day. More exactly, from 10:45 a.m. to 1 p.m., and then after lunch from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. I documented the process on a total of 25 flip chart sheets. It took two full hours until the "purge" was done - the “emptying”. (That was my perception, and it was confirmed on the second day in the morning round, by two participants: "After two hours, it suddenly became exciting ..."). And then I had to allow for a lunch break. Afterward I stepped in, and read aloud again all of challenges / questions that had already emerged - and, indeed, as I got toward the last third of the statements, one of the participants came up with a new solution and the conversation resumed, on the journey we had been on before lunch. Eventually, we arrived at problems that occur at the upper management level (conflicts between two managers of the company), and of course there were no really clear solutions for that. After this point the conversation faltered somewhat, probably because of this, and so I shifted my role for a moment ("I am not speaking now in my role as facilitator, but because of what I've seen in many companies: Yes, you are right; that what takes place "up above" in upper management, transfers "downwards", and the pressure that comes from above, has an impact on the working atmosphere below. But we here in this room, cannot change that. What you can change, is how you want to work together with each other in this environment, under these conditions - or in spite of these conditions.”) Then I paused and went on with the reading of the previous solutions again. And then the conversation went more smoothly, and the challenges and solutions that came up were now increasingly focused on personal behavior. The breakthrough did not come with a single realization, but with a series of solutions that had the tone "one could also simply do this and that ...". It was the discovery, arrived at with great surprise by one side (key account management, which urgently wanted and need more information), and also by the other side (production, which had always been annoyed by the "unnecessary questions these idiots ask"), that this information could be readily available to everyone (for example, in a database for which one only needed to provide new access rights.) This left both sides wondering, why the first group had not known this before…
In this phase, I myself was not so clear what had actually brought about the breakthrough, but I perceived clearly that the mood had improved. People also mentioned that up until now, they had not been able to really enter into this kind of conversation. But the breakthrough was not the end of the conversation. They continued to bring up and name further challenges. So it went on and on. It was as if a sluice had opened, so that now, at last, even this or that difficult issue could be addressed. The second day began with a morning meeting, which lasted about 50 minutes and was attended by the two Executive Committee members, who had not been present on the first day. And then something remarkable occurred: In response to the statement by one of the bosses, "but these documents are completely available and known to all," came a friendly but firm denial from the group that this was not exactly the case; and this came from one of his employees, whom no one would have ever expected to speak up (as another participant said to me afterward). A department head who works for another manager, named the behavior of top managers as one of the reasons why production processes often become confused, and asked the two executives to ensure that this will change. And someone even said to one of the upper managers: "The statement you gave, in response to what we worked on yesterday, seemed to me to have too many “buts” in it”! - It was apparently the first time that anyone had dared to say such things openly. And I thought, Wow, what kind of empowerment has taken place here!


Translated from the German by Rosa Zubizarreta (with extensive help from Google!)