On interesting meetings, and doing “nothing”

Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

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

Chris Corrigan writes about running a very interesting meeting. As a fully paid up Englishman, for me “interesting” is one of those great code words that can mean all sorts of things including painful, difficult and confusing.

And I suspect I’d have felt all those things had I been standing in Chris’ shoes at this one, because things were clearly not going according to plan. For a facilitator in these moments, it’s easy for all that great theory about flexibility, improvisation and “getting out of delegates’ way” to go flying out the window… and for each challenge to process to feel like a thinly veiled personal attack. You can stand there mouthing the words, “of course I’m not attached to this approach” while some inflamed part of your personality is clinging to it for dear life, desperately shrieking, “but I’m a good facilitator“.

There’s some paradoxical contract at the heart of facilitation where we talk about empowering the group but nevertheless are getting paid to bear responsibility for what happens. Sometimes that’s a engaging paradox, and sometimes it just hurts to sit there feeling real or imagined pressure to “do something” when doing nothing feels like the right thing to do.

The other day a delegate from an open space asked me, quite politely, how I justify my role. I think he was struggling with the sense that I wasn’t doing much a lot of the time. There are various possible answers to his question. One of them is that I’m sometimes paid to occupy a position of leadership and then not lead. Chris says this about part of his meeting:

They are doing their own work and even though I didn’t technically “facilitate” anything today, I held space. Sometimes to wisdom not to intervene is what is required to keep space open.

And then there’s the insight of Dan Millman’s peaceful warrior: there is never nothing happening.

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