No matter how amazing a group or facilitator is, they can always improve. If they incrementally head in a good direction they will get to a better place. Incremental improvement requires an effective protocol for meta-conversation (talking about how you collaborate). With it, anything is possible. Without it, you stagnate.
There are many approaches to continuous improvement, but they all create space for reflection and feedback, and a way to make changes in response. For teams that work together on an ongoing basis, they might employ a methodology like scrum, including retrospectives and regular process improvements. For a one-off session, a facilitator might simply follow up with a request for feedback.
- People use Loomio itself to talk about how they use Loomio. It provides an obvious platform to “talk about the talking”.
- The process of joining Loomio causes groups to reflect on many aspects of their collaboration and decision-making process, which creates the opportunity to improve.
Distributed Facilitation / Self-facilitation
As a group becomes more experienced, more individuals build capacity for facilitation. Facilitation can cease to be a role held by a specific person, and become more of a function that can be distributed. Anyone can take acts of facilitation, and a dance of give and take, leading and following, can emerge among participants. For groups with aspirations toward shared leadership and non-hierarchy, this is a very important thing to encourage.
People who are less used to taking acts of facilitation can be supported with education, invitations, and suggestions of first steps. Some examples of acts of facilitation almost anyone can be encouraged to try:
- reflecting back what you’re hearing or summarising
- inviting others to contribute
- asking questions to enhance collective understanding
- noticing who is and is not participating
- appreciating contributions explicitly
You don’t need an agenda to be a facilitator. Facilitating is just about making a group situation easy. Next time you’re at a family gathering, party or morning tea: approach it like a facilitator and make sure everybody in the group feels included and able to participate. — Silvia Zuur
Distributed facilitation can work beautifully, but it can also cause people to step all over each other. At first, it’s awkward as people learn the dance. It’s important to differentiate between distributed facilitation (peers helping the collective), “facipulation” (manipulating the group toward your own agenda), and backseat facilitation (taking acts of facilitation when you do not have the mandate).
Consciously decide when peer facilitation is a good choice, and when a specific facilitator is called for. In certain situations, such as a high-conflict discussion where a specified neutral party is needed, or there is a lack of trust, distributed facilitation might not work.
Acts of facilitation are not just for the manager, or the person who called the meeting — they are for everyone. — Richard Bartlett
Translating this into Loomio
- The online space is uniquely suited to distributed facilitation. Different people can come along at different points depending on what they notice and their skill set.
- An online discussion is by default a distributed collaboration among peers. Any other setup requires explicit design. This is the opposite of offline spaces where the default is that someone called a meeting and distributing the role requires proactivity.
- Loomio is designed with a group of equals in mind. In many ways, a distributed facilitation approach is the best fit for the tool.
- Current Loomio users do peer facilitation all the time, whether they realise that’s what they are doing or not. Simple things like suggesting someone raise a proposal, tagging people, summarising the process so far, etc, are all acts of facilitation.
The Art of Being Facilitated
Like the skill of being the follow in a ballroom dance pair, being facilitated is an art itself. People with experience facilitating themselves, or who have participated in a lot of well-facilitated processes, will receive facilitation differently than those who haven’t.
On the positive side, skillful receptivity to facilitation is a capacoty that can be grown, and it can have a big impact on group success. This ranges from things as simple as showing up on time, to following instructions, to being willing to try a new style of thinking or communicating. Sometimes people have a good experience and they don’t quite know why — pointing out that facilitation is the reason for the smoothness or depth can help them understand what it is they valued about the process.
On the negative side, people who can’t or won’t be facilitated can be detrimental to group collaboration. No matter how skilled a facilitator is, if they encounter a certain level of resistance they won’t be able to do their job. Common problems include dominating the discussion, playing devil’s advocate, disrupting the process, disrespecting the facilitator or participants, or being disengaged. At some level individuals must take responsibility for their willingness to be facilitated.
- With a little practice, most users quickly upskill on being responsive to acts of facilitation on Loomio, such as replying when @mentioned.
- Taking acts of facilitation on Loomio helps people become more responsive to facilitation themselves.
- Because everything is archived, users can see past acts of facilitation “frozen in time”, gaining the benefits of observing them without having been there.
A collaborative, participatory culture is something that emerges over time, with lots of practice and trial and error. Understanding, valuing, and inviting facilitation can play a pivotal role in this cultural emergence. Facilitation can evolve from a role, to a function, to a mindset. A truly collaborative culture is one where everyone is facilitating everyone in myriad different ways.
Is the company party participatory? Does the office potluck just happen like magic? Are ideas able to emerge from anywhere, evolve through many brains and hands, and get implemented in a way better than anyone first imagined?
Deep culture change is when the culture of collaboration starts to leak out of specific “collaboration” spaces and shows up in every aspect of the organisation. Collaboration is not about post-it notes and check-ins, but the very timbre of organisational life.
- The theory of change of Loomio is that more groups practicing effective, inclusive decision-making can change organisational dynamics at a global scale. This shows up in everything about how the tool is designed and how we run as a co-op. Ultimately, it’s about culture change through collaborative practice.
- Loomio groups have experienced evolving culture through the tool. Like groups that already has a collaborative culture scale while holding onto that, or a participatory group continuing to exists instead of imploding due to challanges around inclusive decicion-making.
- Loomio makes a certain kind of “new normal” of collaborative practice possible, through making collaborative practice more accessible and achievable.
For inspiration about Ongoing Practice, check out stories of Loomio groups.