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Time to See the Field

The Art of Facilitation

By Ron Kertzner - September 29, 2016

There’s a scene from the movie, The Legend of Bagger Vance, which speaks directly to the heart and soul of facilitation. In the movie, the character, Arjunah, played by Matt Damon, is 12 strokes behind in a major golf tournament. His caddy, Bagger Vance, is about to suggest a way for him to ‘get back in the game.”

“I think it is time.”
“Time for what”
“Time for you to see the field?”
…”Feel that focus. He gotta a lot of shots he can choose from…but there is one shot that is in perfect harmony with the field. One shot that is his..his authentic shot. And that shot is going to choose him. There is a perfect shot trying to find each and everyone one of us. All we gotta to do is get ourselves out of its way and let it choose us.
You can’t see that flag as some dragon you got to slay. You got to look with soft eyes See the place where the tides and the seasons and the turning of the earth, all come together. Where everything that is becomes one. You got to seek that place with your soul.
Seek it with your hands, don’t think about it. Feel it. Your hands is wiser than you head will ever be….from The Legend of Baggar Vance
When I first saw this scene, I realized the same perspective that applied to a fictional golf story could also be applied to how I facilitate groups. All too often, I would misplace my focus when leading meetings/sessions. The dragon for me was making sure we accomplished our desired outcome of the session. I would use all my facilitation tools (golf clubs), working really hard to ensure the outcome. I was thinking and re-thinking every move, strategizing how to get to the next step, constantly wondering whether we would actually get to the outcome. And, of course, I was equally concerned on how I was appearing to the group: would they like me, would they respect me, etc…
As you can imagine, this can get tiring! I was no longer enjoying the very craft (the art of facilitation) that was my passion. So, with coaching and guidance, I began to let go: let go of controlling the outcome, of looking good, etc…Slowly, I began to see and even more importantly, feel the field. I began to pay attention, first, to what was happening internally: my state of mind, my state of being. I noticed that feeling of needing to be in control, of making everything work. But rather than act on it, I learned to let it pass on through my awareness; like a speeding train that I chose not to get on.
As it passed, I noticed I became more present, more aware of what was happening all around me. No longer consumed by thoughts of control or self-preservation, I could more easily attend to the participants. I started listening deeply to both what they were saying and how they were feeling. I began to sense the  ‘flow’ of the conversation: how things were moving naturally in the direction of the desired outcome and where the group seemed to get stuck.
I began to instinctively sense the right facilitation tool to use that would be of service to the group and to the desired outcome. The tool found me, instead of me over thinking what to do next.
Soon, I began to re-connect to the passion and joy that lead me to facilitate in the first place. Rather than trying to make things happen, I experienced a sense of co-creation.
I learned to ‘trust the process.’ No longer did I need to control the outcome; to make something happen. Rather, I learned to deeply relax into the present moment. Through the power of awareness and attention and a knowledge of good facilitation tools, I could ‘sense’ how the process was unfolding and guide it appropriately.
It reminded me of an experience I had years ago white water rafting. Our guide stood in the back of the boat. Those of us in the boat did most of the work, paddling one way or the other. The guide could sense how the river was flowing and steer us accordingly.
She was moving with the river as opposed to forcing the river.
When we got stuck in an eddy, she instructed us how to get ourselves back  into the flow of the river. When we hit a patch of rough water, she helped us navigate through it.
It wasn’t as if she was passive, just letting us glide down the river. But neither was she pushing, controlling, forcing us to move down the river. It was her connection with the river and with each of us that gave rise to her clear guidance; not too much, not too little.

This is the art of facilitation. Rather than connecting with the river, we connect with ‘the field’. We can’t think our way into the field. Rather, we learn to sense it through our hearts and hands as well as our minds. The field gives rise to creative possibility, to emergence of something new and innovative.
We need to become ‘field explorers.’ We can learn to consciously attend to the field, consciously work through it. What helps us to do that is to focus on the 4 P’s: Presence, People, Process, Purpose..
Presence – this requires us to be ‘mindful’, to attend to the present moment, to let go of latching onto a myriad of thoughts of emotions.
People – we need to connect not only with ourselves but also to those participating in the conversation. We connect through deep listening, asking thoughtful questions, and encouraging engagement.
Process –this provides a structure for the conversation to flow. Typically, there is some sort of divergent thinking  to convergent thinking process happening. Some people call it open, narrow, close; others call it go broad to go narrow. Being aware of how the group is moving through a process is a critical part of connecting to the field.
Purpose – when we simultaneously connect to our sense of purpose (am I there to serve or gratify my ego) and to that of the group (why they have come together), we see the flag we are aiming for, where our journey on the river winds up.
When we consciously choose to become ‘field explorers’, utilizing the four P’s, we begin to see with soft eyes. We begin to feel a deeper connection with everyone in the group and sense where the “river’ is flowing and skillfully guide what is truly seeking to emerge.