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ThinkBalance Facilitation

Updated: Dec 3, 2022

Ten “Jedi” Master Tips

GK VanPatter & Janet Getto

A topic that often bubbles up today in our work with leaders in organizations is innovation / problem solving facilitation when the challenges are extremely complex. Facilitation is one of those generalized tricky words that has numerous interpretations in the marketplace, some more strategic than others, some more clear than others. facilitation does have a long history in the CPS community, not so much in the design / design thinking communities.

Since our approach straddles several knowledge communities, including Creative Problem Solving (CPS), Strategic Design Thinking, and Visual SenseMaking our perspective on the subject of facilitation tends to be a hybrid mix. It is one that is based on years of experiment and experience in our practice. Through the years, we have garnered a deep understanding of the role of the facilitator to orchestrate and navigate teams of people through complexity.

The evolution of facilitation is for us a natural part of how many innovation related skills are being rethought and reinvented in the context of this era of rising challenge complexity and information abundance. Seeing many thoughtful future of work skills visions depicting the immediate and future need for complex problem solving, sensemaking, creativity and collaboration skills we decided that it might be a good moment to share with our readers a short series on this subject. Part 1of 3 is this post today ☺

What we are referencing here is a mindset, skillset and toolset that can help any team navigate fuzzy complexity and ultimately become better prepared for a continuously arriving uncertain future. ThinkBalance Facilitation represents action-oriented innovation skills that enable us to jump in and help in many complex fuzzy situations. Our goal is always maximizing individual and collective brainpower. It is at the intersection of complex challenges, innovation skills, tools and process that the facilitators job becomes critical.

Applications & Characteristics:

1: Facilitation of What?

Any situation that involves challenge finding, framing and solving can benefit from having a skilled facilitator present and most especially, when the stakes are high. . The intention behind casually chatting in a café over coffee might not be problem solving and thus a facilitator may not be required. An experienced ThinkBalance Facilitator brings skills and tools that are highly useful in any situation that involves moving from a present state to a more desired state.

Red Flag #1

If you find yourself in a group work session trying to use coffee chat dynamics to address highly complex challenges get ready for lots and lots of coffee!

2: Leading from Meta

A ThinkBalance Facilitator leads with the  understanding and respect of the holistic cognition of the group rather than from their own personal thinking style preference. Facilitating, leading and or teaching from personal thinking preferences lends itself to unintentional bias by the facilitator. . In the context of innovation we want to avoid this tilting bias. A key responsibility of the ThinkBalance Facilitator is to embrace and model respect for a holistic array of thinking preferences. This involves more than being a good listener. The ThinkBalance Facilitator creates equally weighted space for the diverse thinking styles to maximize their contributions in safety. The central responsibility becomes harnessing and orchestrating collective brainpower. Most models of inclusion don't consider cognitive thinking style preferences. We do. This form of enabling cognitive inclusion requires setting aside personal thinking preferences and being responsible for the whole.

Red Flag #2: If you find yourself in a work session where the facilitator is projecting their own thinking style preferences expect outcomes aligned with those projections whether they fit the challenge being addressed or not.

3: Process not Content

ThinkBalance Facilitation is a process leadership role not a content advisory role. We see facilitation often being misunderstood in the marketplace due to the orientation of numerous professional disciplines which focus on adding value via being a content advisor. The orientation of ThinkBalance Facilitation is that diverse participants including the challenge owners and various stakeholders provide the content knowledge. This frees the facilitator to deep dive on process mastery, which in itself, is today a complex subject. This also enables us to engage and help leaders across many industries. Our company might provide persons to participate on the content side but this is not the role of the ThinkBalance Facilitator.

Red Flag #3: If you find yourself in a work session where a person calling themselves the “facilitator" is giving the group content advice you know you are in a situation where the roles are being intermixed.

4. Navigating with a Compass

A ThinkBalance Facilitator leads, based on deep mastery of holistic innovation process rather than a casual grasp of encyclopedic innovation techniques. That holistic process serves as, not the script, but the orienting compass to all kinds of complex unstructured situations. That visualized interface is central to ThinkBalance Facilitation. It is at its core. Today there are many technique encyclopedias around but knowing of them is not considered a serious facilitation skill. General encyclopedic knowledge of techniques is different from deep mastery of holistic process. ThinkBalance Facilitator emphasis in on the latter. That visualized holistic process acts as the organizing structure for the various activities in the innovation journey. That visual compass, from fuzzy front end to launch, helps to orient the group in all kind of complex unstructured situations.

Red Flag #4: If you find yourself in a work session involving complex problem solving by a diverse team but your facilitator has no visualized process to show get ready for a long, confusing, bumpy ride with a lot of time consuming repetition.

5. Assumption-Free not Assumption-Boxed

ThinkBalance Facilitators are particularly skilled at operating in the fuzzy terrain where the actual challenges are unknown. Operating in complex organizational and societal contexts ThinkBalance Facilitators utilize open aperture methodologies that are free from preconceived assumptions such as challenges are product, service or experience related. ThinkBalance Facilitation is significantly different from assumption-boxed product, service, and experience design thinking facilitation as well as “Agile” coaching. We already know from years of experience working with leaders that in the complex fuzzy terrain of organizations and societies that it makes no sense to assume all challenges are product, service or experience related. Facilitating assumption-free work sessions requires deep mastery of assumption-free methods and tools.

Red Flag #5: If you find yourself in a work session where the challenge and solution paths are being defined or imported before the project journey even begins you are inside assumption-boxed methodology.

6: Understanding Who “Owns” the Challenge 

Extremely helpful is to understand and define the various roles to be played in any innovation meeting. Those roles include the challenge owner, the participants and the facilitator. Each has different responsibilities. The first two are content roles and the latter is a process role. Defining meeting roles helps to take the bumps out of meetings reducing stress and friction. It also helps us consider what kinds of folks we need to have in the room, depending on the situation we are addressing. In concert with the challenge owner we consider who the content participants should be and the nature of their content knowledge. Perhaps most import in this new era is that shifting to new ways of working around tackling complex challenges and opportunities often involves significantly rethinking the problem owner role. In the old order problem owners often choose challenges for teams to tackle based on personal interests. In the new order the project team is empowered by the problem owner to be much more customer needs focused. Getting to that new era orientation often involves some coaching for the person in the problem owner role by the ThinkBalance Facilitator.

Red Flag #6: If you find yourself in a problem solving work session and the meeting roles have not been defined get ready for a bumpy, time consuming ride.

7. Enabling Evidence Informed?

Today a ThinkBalance Facilitator has to be masterful at integrating visualized data, information and insights into the innovation process. This part of the ability especially syncs up with the rising tide of interest and need for organizational leaders to work differently, moving away from the traditional hunch-based management approach and towards one that takes advantage of never before available qualitative data and information as well as qualitative insights. Humantific ThinkBalance Facilitators are involved with the Visual SenseMaking advisory team in creating the information field that becomes central to the facilitated session. In ThinkBalance Facilitation we utilize this visualized information field as fuel to significantly accelerate the innovation cycle.

Red Flag #7: If you find yourself in a work session with a group trying to address a highly complex challenge but you have no visualized information in the room get ready for a long drawn out ride.

8. Mastering both Alone Work and  Group Work

Today a skilled ThinkBalance Facilitator understands the need to integrate both individual and group work into all complex problem solving situations. We recognize that not everyone is 100% comfortable in continuous group settings. An important aspect of

ThinkBalance Facilitation is to design sessions that ensure a diversity of activity occurs. While traditional facilitation was focused primarily of group interactions what we do today is embrace a broader scope of activities in the session design. The goal is always to create the safe space that will help us maximize brainpower.


Red Flag #8: If you find yourself in a work session that is all group work you are unlikely missing out on the power of individually generated contributions.

9. Embracing Wild Cards

A highly skilled ThinkBalance Facilitator is well aware that often a wild card participant and or a wild card idea from left or right field can play an important role in any teams innovation journey. It becomes part of the facilitators responsibility to encourage the group to remain open to wild cards in real time sessions.

Red Flag #9: If you find yourself in a work session with too much formal

structure around who the experts are and who can add value beware that it can suffocate innovation.

10: More Than Facilitation

ThinkBalance Facilitation is just one application of the skill. In Humantific practice we utilize the same mastery to advise on defining organizational innovation strategy, building inclusive cultures, creating visual sensemaking capacity and creating innovation academies. The inclusive logic of ThinkBalance is under everything we do!

Red Flag #10: In our Humantific practice the dynamics of ThinkBalance Facilitation connect directly to the dynmics of psychological safety and inclusive culture building. Facilitation makes most sense in this organizational context, facing uncertain complexities beyond product, service and experience assumptions.


Skilling Up?

To learn more about how Humantific can help your organization build a team of Master ThinkBalance Facilitators send us an email: kickitup (at) humantific (dot) com

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