Doing “nothing”

Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together


Stuey the Coach introduced me to a nice piece of jargon from the sports world: in-task silence. That’s where the coach watches his player(s) but doesn’t actively intervene.

Whilst this may initially seem counterintuitive there is a growing body of research that suggests that this method can develop players’ decision making skills, creates empowerment through enabling players to take more responsibility for their actions results in players being less reliant on coaches during game play and encourages players to communicate more with each other.

This maps across pretty neatly to facilitators too. I remember Chris Corrigan explaining the best way to “train” an open space facilitator is to put them by the agenda area (usually the busiest spot in the room at a certain point) and instruct them to do nothing. That’s because this point of busyness and apparent confusion is exactly where facilitators feel so tempted to be helpful. And where it’s nearly always best to just let people get on with it.

Stu is curious to know more about what exactly is going on when this “nothing” is happening. Me too. It’s not that the coach/facilitator doesn’t care or isn’t engaged; in fact holding space in this way, managing all the internal impulses to interfere, can be quite hard work.

I think we’re talking about presence. It’s my experience that we all signal our engagement and interest in all sorts of subtle ways, things that are picked up unconsciously or semi-consciously. When we’re not frantically waving our arms about or giving directions, it’s possible the bandwidth for this more subtle engagement actually increases.

At the moment, I’m really interested in experimenting with subtext games. These come from improv. In that context, you might get two players to do a simple scene. Two additional players then add a second voice to each of the first two players. For example, they might play the main players’ inner demons, or guardian angels, or subconsciouses.

These scenes can be pretty exciting as performance pieces. I’m interested in using them to explore all the less obvious signalling that goes on in relationships. If you watch Lendl’s in-task silence you know there’s plenty of that going on.

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