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Are you a professional cat-herder?
Well, maybe that’s not your official title. But do you facilitate groups?
Sometimes training a group can feel a lot like herding cats — getting independent people to move in a direction they’re not aiming to go. Sometimes, we’re successful and manage to get them from point A to point B. Other times, we seem to get stuck and can’t make forward progress.
So much of our ability to have successful impacts depends on how we facilitate the process.
Make It Easy
So how do we best lead groups? Just look at the dictionary definition of “facilitate” — to make easy.
To make a positive impact on a group, we must make it easy to learn and apply the concepts we teach.
As I’ve developed and honed my facilitation skills over the years, I’ve frequently referred back to a model I learned a long time ago. It helps us think about, “How can I more effectively facilitate the learning outcomes I want.”
It’s simple, but the framework is powerful. It’s called the I-We-It Model.
When we understand the three parts of this model, we’re better able to help our groups learn what they need to learn. Here are the basics of each component:
The “I” is all about the presenter — both in your role as facilitator and who you are as a person.
First, it considers your role as a facilitator in the context of the group. Maybe your role is facilitating learning or helping the group make a decision. To understand the I, you must ask, “What’s my role within the context of what we’re trying to accomplish?”
The I also considers “self.” Wondering how this affects a training session? Ask yourself:
- How do I bring my own personal self to the table?
- How do my own needs, issues, hot buttons, or personal agendas affect the group?
The “We” focuses on the group as a whole. First, we have to think about group development:
- How does a group evolve over the time I spend with them?
- How might that affect my engagement with them, what I’m helping them do, how we work together, and how quickly we get where we want to go?
We’ve all seen group dynamics unfold during the course of training too. These “we” dynamics include:
- What’s going on in the room?
- What’s the energy like?
- Are there interesting interactions happening?
- Is hierarchy or a strong personality impacting the flow of communication?
The “It” is the final piece. This is the content, material, or task is in front of the group. It’s what we’re trying to accomplish.
The Most Important Part
Which part of the model is most important? Which is the non-negotiable component that once you figure it out, the other two naturally follow?
Some believe the “I” is most important because you have to know your stuff before you start facilitating.
Others believe the success of a training depends entirely on group dynamics.
Still, others believe if you’re not there to deal with the content — the “it” — then what’s the point of the training?
But there’s a fourth option: it depends.
Being an effective facilitator is a combination of art and science. You have to get a feel for what’s happening, ground it in group development and group dynamics, and understand the material.
So, what’s the most important piece of the I-We-It Model?
Think of it like a multi-lens tool. We can change our lenses to best see the group and the goals we’re striving towards.
To best facilitate learning, we have to be flexible in our response to the needs of the group. Sometimes we need to zoom in on one area in particular. Other times, we need to keep two areas in focus and not worry about the third.
The key to successful group facilitation isn’t as simple as being a great presenter, understanding group dynamics, or really knowing your stuff. It’s about the constant awareness of how the I, We, and It are at play… then choosing how to use them best.