Two Powerful Techniques to use in Group Facilitation

Dec 1, 04

This Month

This month’s issue came about as a result of my current readings of some of the early practitioners and experimenters in the field of Organization Development; The Consultants Journey, Roger Harrison and Agent of Change: My Life, My Practice by Richard Beckhard. Coincidently at around the same time, I had a stimulating interaction with Sheila Damodaran, a practitioner of the ‘Learning Organization’ at the Singapore Police Force. I had wanted to share her learnings with you however that was not to be as I found myself a little out of depth with the concepts of the Learning Organization. Be sure, you will soon read it, hopefully in Sheila’s own voice.
This issue discusses two very powerful techniques to facilitate groups. There is never a better time than now to immerse yourself…

As always, I look forward to your feedback at

Thank you,

Jigyasa (

Two Powerful Techniques to use in Group Facilitation

I) Left Hand Column Exercise:
This is a powerful technique used originally by Chris Argyris and made popular by Peter Senge through his book, The Fifth Discipline to understand the underlying causes while interacting with one another.

The left hand column exercise typically works in the following situations:
As an individual, if you find yourself having difficulty in putting across your point of view, feel misunderstood or feel a resistance to your idea or suggestion.
In groups, when you find the group unable to go forward when dealing with a particular issue or when there seem to be many hidden agendas that are stalling a meeting
How does it work?

1. Recall a difficult conversation you have been recently having; your boss, a colleague or a friend.

2. Create a 2 column table if you are working on the computer or draw a vertical line in the middle of a paper. You might require several sheets of paper.

3. On the right hand column, write down the conversation exactly as it was said similar to a script dialogue.

4. Then, on the left hand column, write down what you actually thought.

Sample Exercise: This is a dialogue I had with a colleague who was reporting to me.

What I thought Our Dialogue
Everybody seems to have a problem working with you.

Me: Saurabh, I keep getting complaints from people that you do not process their papers.
Saurabh: If people come to me at the last minute, I can’t process it. I have other work to do.
Why do always choose to be so stubborn? Why can’t you be a little flexible?

Me: You need to be responsive.
Saurabh: That’s why rules have been created, it applies to everybody. If others can follow, why can’t this handful follow? They do it regularly.
Perhaps, it’s just your rudeness that put them off. I am sure if you were a little courteous, they would have understood your problem.Does he not realize that there are going to be exceptions to it all the time?
Me: Yes, if you are really pressured, try explaining your problem politely.
Saurabh: If senior people behave this way, what kind of an example are they setting?
5. Use the left hand column as a tool to reflect on the assumptions you might have made or how you may have come across. Reflect on whether you would have handled the situation any differently, what made you act differently the first time and were you satisfied with the outcome?

Some of the difficulties in doing this as a group activity are that people may not be ready to share their real thoughts, especially if they are asked to comment on an initiative that is coming from top. On the other hand if a group gets it right, it could be a great way to get to a crux of the matter. Robert Putnam who has worked with Chris Argyris once said, “With the left-hand column in particular we find that within minutes people begin saying things like “Let me tell you my left-hand column on that one.”

II) Confronting people

This technique was first used by Richard Beckhard. According to him, “Under stress, individuals or organization systems experience high negative energy. Because energy is “neutral”, you can reduce stress by quickly converting the energy direction from negative to positive. Then the negative energy becomes an asset. The challenge is to turn the energy 180 degrees in the opposite direction. The best action is not to cool the energy by working on morale and discomfort but to create short-term goals that must be met”

He offers a methodology for creating these action plans for improvement though “an activity that allows a total management group, drawn from all levels of the organization, to take a quick reading of its own health and – within a matter of hours- to set action plans for improving it. He calls this activity a confrontation meeting.”

Time required: four and half to five hours’ working time

When is it most appropriate:

Recent organizational changes
Top Management needs an action plan to work with its organizational goals
Participative approach to organizations diagnosis
Here are the seven components for the Confrontation meeting:

1. Setting the Agenda: This sets the tone of the meeting. The challenges that the organization is facing are shared by a senior manager with the group.

2. Gathering Information: The group is broken up into smaller groups of about 7 to 8 people. Each sub-group is given an assignment in the lines of: “What are the demotivators, challenges, barriers to growth that currently exist.” Each sub-group appoints a person to present the findings after about 1 hour of the discussion.

3. Sharing Information: Each of the problems shared by the appointed person is given a heading and the sheet of paper with the problem is tacked on the walls. The problems are further categorised under 6 to 7 broad areas.

4. Setting Priorities and Group Action Planning: Here members get into their own functional / department units and headed by their functional / department head. Each team carries a copy of the problem sheets and works on three specific tasks:

Discuss the problems and issues that affect their area and commit on the priorities and actions that need to be taken
Identify the areas that need top priority attention by the senior management
Decide how the action plan needs to be communicated within their own team/ department
5. Organization Action Plan: Here the entire group convenes in a general session where

Each unit shares their commitment and action plan
Lists the areas that need to be acted on by the senior management
The senior management responds to this list and makes commitments
Each unit shares its plans to brief the rest of the team
6. Immediate follow up by senior management: The team meets immediately after the confrontation meeting to plan on follow up action plans

7. Follow Up Review: A follow up review with the entire group four to six weeks later

Go ahead try these techniques out!

Further Reading


Agent of Change: My Life, My Practice by Richard Beckhard
The fifth Discipline, Peter Senge
The fifth Discipline Field Book.

Guidelines on how to write the left hand column. Other great resources are also available on this site.
An interview with Robert Putman on applying Argyris


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