Facilitation Skills – The key to making Design Thinking effective in teams

In the introductory blog on Design Thinking,   we saw how LEVER provides a contextual structure to practice Design Thinking in many situations.

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We had also touched briefly upon why an effective process along with relevant tools is  required to make practicing Design Thinking effective in teams.

All applications of Design Thinking involve working with people, either to understand the problem better, or in teams to design solutions. This is applicable for many areas where Design Thinking is applied – be it for creating strategy, elaborating a product vision, designing a service or creating a solution.

In this blog, we will examine how good facilitation skills provide a positive effect for applying Design Thinking in problem solving.

So, what is facilitation and what do good facilitators do? Groups and teams of people are literally the basic unit of getting something done. An effective group typically agree on their purpose, how they will work together, express what their view and rationale is, and, willingly commit to next steps.

Facilitation is the process by which someone – either from within or someone accepted by the group steers the group dynamics to take steps towards learning about symptoms, defining problems, validating assumptions and generating ideas before validating and executing the solution. The key part being that – the person doing the facilitation (Facilitator) does not decide for the group; on the contrary the facilitator aides the group to decide by itself.

Good Facilitators adopt and advocate certain core priniciples to make groups work effectively:

  • Encourage availability of contextually relevant information to the entire group
  • Ensure every member of the group is able to operate and make choices independently
  • Ensure people are ready to make commitments of their own will

Good facilitators – either working as leaders in shepherding the group or in a purely consultative role take a path of inquiry and advocacy – stating positions and courses of actions, with their reasoning and being open for others to inquire. They help each member of the group do the same.

In the context of applying design thinking techniques, Facilitators  may need to take a lead in understanding what is a correct group, and act to ensure the group is available.

Facilitators need to be observant, aware of their own bias, decide the current interpersonal state of the group, watch for dominant behaviour and be opportunistic to intervene and get the group to focus, without alienating themselves to the group. In specific cases, facilitators must be willing to have conversations with individuals in private to affect the group dynamic positively.

So, how to start being a good facilitator? While I think that is a topic by itself – I have found Argyris’ concept of Ladders of Inference very useful.

In a nutshell – if we become aware of the relationship between what we have seen and how we respond; we can slow ourselves down to seek relevant information for taking decisions. This awareness, coupled with a confidence to work with groups of people sets someone on the path of being a good facilitator.

The positive pay-off from having good facilitation skills is huge: Effective facilitation builds a useful bridge for teams to construct a common pool of knowledge. And when this bridge becomes available – a structured Design Thinking process (like LEVER) and the tools available with it will make the group succeed – at a different order of magnitude.

What do you think?

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