Being neutral, not on one side or the other of points of view, or biased toward certain solutions, is a necessary competency of a facilitator of collaborative performance improvement.
A few years ago, I facilitated a strategic planning meeting for a board of a non-profit, that was struggling to retain and grow its membership and donors with an aging membership population. I told the group at the start, “I want you to know that I am very committed to your success, but I am totally agnostic about what you choose to do as the result of our work together.” I noticed a subtle positive change in the tone and body language in the room. Throughout the next two days, the group which had struggled in the past to find agreements on how to reinvigorate its brand, membership, and sponsorships generated ideas for their next phase of the organization. The board came to agreements on their brand and how they would communicate to members and sponsors to achieve the next phase of the organization collaboratively.
A couple of years later I was invited to facilitate again, but could not due to other obligations. After their session, the CEO called me, “I really wish you could have facilitated our session again. It was apparent to everyone in the session that the facilitator we used was attempting to influence us to use strategies and solutions that he could deliver. You were not like that. We knew you were neutral, and we could trust you to help us get to the right decisions together.”
Neutrality sets Certified Performance Improvement Facilitators and Certified School Improvement Specialists apart from other consultants who guide improvement planning.
Holding their opinions in abeyance, listening, and using their toolsets to guide collaborative inquiry, CPIF support those they serve to begin or deepen their inquiry and not jump to solutions without the right analysis. This approach does not slow solutions or innovations or prevent an agile approach, but rather supports the critical thinking necessary for the iterative process to pursue the best steps to the best outcomes. Ending up with the wrong results quickly, or with everyone in agreement, is not the best outcome.
Certified Performance Improvement Facilitators apply proven tools and processes that help to navigate group think, support equity of voice, and balance power in decision making, while managing time and resources.
Looking back on that strategic planning session, one member of the board had requested in advance of the session to make a presentation to the group on effective marketing strategies. Granted permission by the CEO to interrupt the facilitated session for the presentation, the member pitched an idea for developing video games created by a friend’s company. The board member was not aware that there were dozens of video games on the market of the kind proposed as an innovation. What could have been thirty minutes of facilitated analysis was sacrificed to an ill-informed, biased sales pitch, for a solution that already existed.
Neutrality of the facilitator helps collaborators address complex, messy challenges for which there are many causes and many potential solutions, while avoiding pitfalls, like jumping to solutions without the right inquiry and analysis.