Facilitation Skills and Teams - Focused Teams PDF Print E-mail

February 2012 - The FoCuSeD™ Facilitator eNewsletter

focused teams

Facilitation Skills and Teams - Focused Teams | Gary Rush Facilitation


In January, I facilitated a group of healthcare professionals – doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, EMTs, etc. The purpose of the workshop was to identify opportunities and strategies for supporting “inter-professional” teams – teams made up of multiple professions working together for the patient. The workshop went well, and got me thinking of all of the opportunities for multiple professions/disciplines working together as one team and the role that facilitation skills play in making the teams successful.


Some Background


The concept of multiple professions working together is not new. Companies, such as IDEO, have been successfully employing the concept for years. It’s spreading beyond the few to become embraced by numerous professions and industries. The concept is not the same as “Self-Directed Work Teams (SDWT)” because these inter-professional teams are convened for a specific purpose – a specific patient in the case of healthcare or a specific design in the case of IDEO. Self-directed work teams are established for a longer period and not limited to a single project. There are similarities because neither has a “leader” and both require a very different way of working than other types of teams. I’ll call these “Focused Teams” – defined as, a group of people from multiple professions and/or disciplines, without an obvious “leader”, who form, temporarily, for a specific purpose. These Focused Teams require a new set of skills that is seldom taught in the individual professions – facilitation skills.


Why is this growing?


The major impetus that I’ve seen is the phenomenal growth of information and knowledge required to do many jobs. Twenty years ago, one person could design, build, and deliver a video game. Today, it requires a team of people – musicians, artists, writers, programmers, etc., to make it happen. Fifty years ago, the country doctor carried everything needed to care for a patient in his or her doctor bag. Today, the doctor carries a computer and requires the knowledge of many other professions to care for a patient.


The same is true in many other professions and industries – no one person can be expert enough (an “expert” is defined as a has-been drop of water). This increase in required knowledge is due to the increased complexity of our world and requires multiple professions and disciplines to work together.


The Problem


The problem with this growing trend is that the various professions and disciplines are taught all of the technical skills needed to do the job; however, few if any are taught the required facilitation skills to work together. And, these professions learn in silos – seldom do they practice working in inter-professional or inter-disciplinary teams in schools – yet they have to work in inter-professional and inter-disciplinary teams when they leave school. Because they don’t learn about teams and working together in their education, they don’t know what the others' set of skills and perspectives are – and vice-versa. Traditional models don’t work because no one expertise is more important than another, so traditional leadership roles don’t exist. Because these “teams” only form for a short time, from a few minutes to a few months, with no one leader, traditional “group evolution” – forming, storming, norming, performing – happens differently.


How Does it Work?


Even though “group evolution” happens differently, the key characteristics that define a team still apply. For a group of people to be a team, they need trust, healthy conflict, commitment, accountability, and a common goal. The need for these characteristics doesn’t go away because the teams form for a short time, in fact, these characteristics are more important. The difficulty is to develop these characteristics when no leader is responsible to assess and develop the characteristics in the group of people. So how does it work? People need to be trained – both in individual and in inter-professional settings. People need facilitation skills and an understanding of Focused Team concepts.


  • Different focus on Diversity – Understanding diversity is critical – especially understanding that diversity, in this instance, is referring to diverse skills, professions, and perspectives. This different focus is seldom discussed in diversity training but is critical to understand. Each profession brings a very different set of skills and perspectives that the others need, but don’t always realize. One example, I listened to a cardiac surgeon explain that once, when he was in the operating room, he realized that his focus was the mechanics of the heart – making it work correctly. The patient on the table was almost secondary. For the operating room nurse, the focus was on the patient overall. This different focus brought different perspectives and created communication problems until it was recognized and dealt with.
  • Different way of working – These Focused Teams don’t form accidentally. Since they form on purpose, they need to follow simple project management concepts – plan for the work, execute the work, and then reflect on what happened. Planning for the work enables the team to function well because everyone can then know the purpose and objectives of the team, the roles, and processes they will follow. Executing the work requires facilitation skills. Reflecting on what happened is critical to capture what they learned – both about their work and about how they worked together as a team – so that they continually improve their way of working.
  • New set of skillsFocused Teams need facilitation skills, such as:
    • Active Listening – This is critical to working together because communication is important in developing trust, healthy conflict, and commitment. It enables team members to understand each other and not make inaccurate assumptions.
    • Process thinking – Knowing how to structure a basic agenda is important. Effective action doesn’t happen when processes are haphazard or poorly defined. A clear process for how a team will work eliminates confusion and miscommunication and gives them a better chance at successfully achieving their goals.
    • Self-direction – This is much like self-directed work teams in that the individuals need to be self-motivated and self-directed since there is no “leader” to motivate and direct them. People need to be self-confident enough to be able to self motivate. Additionally, they need to be able to do this without the influence of the ego – they need to view each other as equally important – as equal contributors.
  • Common Competencies – The following four competencies are taken from the Core Competencies for Inter-professional Collaborative Practice developed by the Inter-professional Education Collaborative (stakeholders from healthcare professions):
    • Values/Ethics – A set of core values that everyone in the team accepts and follows ensures that every member is on a common playing field. Mutual respect, trust, and honesty help a team develop trust and engage in healthy conflict.
    • Roles/Responsibilities – Knowing who does what helps avoid communication errors and helps avoid people stepping on the responsibility of someone else. Often, just defining roles and responsibilities is the easiest way to ensure success of an effort.
    • Communication – Active listening and understanding the perspective of another clears the way for accurate communication, which avoids errors and discord.
    • Teamwork – Working as a team and knowing how to work as a team – listening, understanding processes, knowing how to correct dysfunction – all help prevent discord in the team and helps them develop commitment, accountability and aim for a common goal.


This is the Future


Our world isn’t getting simpler so the need for Focused Teams will continue growing. These new types of teams need to be recognized and developed. I will explore this topic further in future newsletters as new ideas develop. Focused Teams require changing how we train people and require that we train people on facilitation skills as well as the technical skills of their job. logo