The power of saying nothing
This is an apocryphal story. Source unknown.
Once upon a time, there was an Innovation Director at a major company who was holding an away-day with his team to brainstorm new opportunities for the following year.
He invited an external facilitator to help him run the day.
The Innovation Director introduced the facilitator to the team, and kicked off proceedings by clarifying the objectives and setting the agenda for the next 8 hours. The team got stuck into the task at hand. By lunchtime, they had made good progress, lots of new ideas had been generated and the Director was happy!
The facilitator just sat there and said nothing.
They reassembled after lunch, brainstormed some more, developed the ideas further and by the end of the afternoon, they had selected three concrete solutions to take forward in to the following year’s innovation pipeline. The Innovation Director had led from the front and everybody had got involved, making strong contributions along the way.
The facilitator had sat there and still she had said practically nothing.
After the Innovation Director had made his concluding remarks and agreed next steps with his highly motivated team, he suddenly saw the facilitator gazing slightly anxiously at the flip chart. He said: “You have been very quiet today. In fact, you have hardly uttered a word. Do you have anything to add to the proceedings?”
“Yes, I do” replied the facilitator. “When you use the flip chart pen, make sure you always replace the top, otherwise it will soon dry out”.
Moral of the story is this: Good facilitators are great Supporters. Their role is to make sure that the team have established clear objectives, are following a process that will achieve their objectives and are behaving in a way that will help them execute the process as effectively as possible. They are not the centrepiece, they are the support act. They should watch and they should listen… probably harder and more intently than anybody else in the room… but they should only interrupt if they need to.
She didn’t need to, so she kept quiet.