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The International Association of Facilitators (IAF) is a participatory organisation with members in more than 65 countries. As a professional association, we set internationally accepted industry standards, provide accreditation, support a community of practice, advocate and educate on the power of facilitation and embrace the diversity of facilitators.

Global Flipchart



May 2016
| Issue #3

Facilitating Innovation

By Lawrence Philbrook

The Japanese operation of an American organization needed a breakthrough strategy. The system had grown complex:  products and processes were designed partly to keep control in the hands of certain senior members of the organization. It was still productive and profitable but there were signs of internal dissent, people beginning to leave and a sense of departure from practiced values. Their request was for facilitating strategic planning with some work on trust building. The session was with the leadership team of about 30 people.

I began by interviewing all 30, for about 40 minutes each, so they could tell me what I needed to know to design a process for them to talk to each other and make decisions. Questions covered their current situation, their hopes for the future, and any concerns or issues. Most of the time my task was simply to “hold the space” for them to share what they needed to share. Then I met the top 5 people (3 from Japan, 2 from US), to discuss process and expected output. I facilitated in dialogue for each of them to share what they felt needed to change and then what they felt was their role in creating what had come into being and therefore what support they needed to move into a new way of operating. They felt morale was the key issue, with the creation of a practical plan second. 

I then designed a process of 5 steps over 2.5 days:

  • Current reality 
  • Creating a shared vision
  • Exploring underlying contradictions
  • Strategic Actions
  • Initial Action Plans

It took a long time to work in depth through the current reality, however the team made changes immediately after consensus was reached on some of the areas - such as the IT team went back after the discussion and adjusted the software so that the payment and reward system would reflect the agreed recommendations.

For the leadership team this demonstrated we would be better off having action teams create the basic framework for moving forward on areas where we had a consensus and could be done immediately.  This was to emphasis an image created during the visioning session of “One Team One Dream.”

Three months later we reconvened to do the full planning process with three groups the leadership team, the sales teams and then the support team. Having established the context of “One team one dream”, it opened them up to challenge each other respectfully. They reviewed their product line, dropped many products, and created descriptions for new products. The Support teams developed scenarios to fit the new structure. Each team had 3 months to test and propose new options; some succeeded, some failed, but the sense of being open for innovation continued. 

My task as facilitator was to design what I felt was needed and then to hold the space for their discovery process.