Guiding a group through the adventure forest

Forest by  David Sykes  on flickr.

Forest by David Sykes on flickr.

One of the most helpful things a facilitator does, is to transform how groups feel about the messy, sticky, unfocused middle of meetings. Facilitators often call this the ‘groan zone’: the phase of a meeting when conversations go a bit random, and it feels as if no progress is being made.
But what if we reframe the groan zone: if we help groups explore and appreciate the wonders of the ‘adventure forest’?

The shape of meetings

adventure forest.png

Whenever a meeting needs to create something new, it will have a shape which is something like a squashed hexagon.

Things begin in a contained way, and then diverge out as a wide range of perspectives are shared, and options are created. Towards the end of the meeting, conclusions are drawn, decisions are made, the way forward is agreed.  And in the middle? Ah, in the middle is the adventure!
As facilitators, we can create some structure for this middle bit, but we need to keep it light. Because the adventure forest in the middle is where unexpected discoveries are made. Where the group will face thorns and monsters, and by overcoming them together create strong bonds. The dense undergrowth is where people will get lost, and the facilitators job is to help them enjoy the experience of finding their way again with curiosity rather than coming in with a chainsaw and short-cutting the experience.
Extend it as long as you dare.

Emerging from the forest

And when the group seems ready to reflect on what it’s discovered, bring them out of it with questions like:

  • What are your insights, now that we’ve had this discussion?

  • What’s your freshest thinking on this issue?

  • What question do we need to answer next?

Download the diagram here.

Making the Path by Walking

This post was first published in my Making the Path by Walking newsletter, May 2019. For practical tips on facilitation, organisational change and sustainability to your inbox each month, scroll down to the footer to subscribe.