On leading, following and open space

September 27, 2008

There’s interesting discussion going on here and here and here about the Open Space model of facilitation. I’m not going to attempt to do justice to the various writers but Johnnie said something on this post about the role of facilitator that really caught my eye

What’s more interesting – and harder to express – is a more fundamental question: do we really believe in the idea of one person leading a group of mere mortals through the wilderness? Or is it more realistic to expect confusion, frustration and mess as well as epiphanies and breakthroughs? And sometimes much more of the former than the latter?

There’s so much richness in this comment but what struck me is that I don’t believe one person leads and many others follow – the act of leadership is a complex one – leaders need followers so to follow is as complex a decision as to lead – sometimes the leader is the one who didn’t declare their followership early enough and got the top job by default. So the breakthroughs, epiphanies and frustrations that Johnnie refers to belong to followers as much as leaders i.e. there is group ownership. All of this begs the question as to why bother hiring a facilitator in the first place? What’s their (or my expertise?)…in my case my expertise is about process and the most I can bring to the table is my awareness of what’s happening in the room (which may be very different from the group’s interpretation of what’s happening) and in sharing what I see and feel I’m hoping to facilitate the group’s awareness of how they are doing business, thinking, creating or stagnating. Most of the time that’s about identifying, naming and trying to process all of the confusing stuff that Johnnie refers to above that in being ignored gets in the way of moving forward…
So I agree with Chris that there’s really no such thing as objectivity and all I can do is be aware of my subjective self and wonder what tuning into that tells me about fantasy and projection. I guess that’s where a psychodynamic understanding of groups is incredibly helpful – allowing the unconscious and emotional processes some air time as useful intelligence about what’s working and not. You can’t tap into that material if (a) you’re being ‘objective’ and (b) see leading or facilitating as a process that’s separate from following and participating. Such rich material in these posts….Now I’m wondering what objectivity might actually look like … anyone any ideas?