Change - Strategic Facilitation

by Tony Mann

In a nutshell

1. Strategic facilitation – the context

Strategic facilitation is an extension of operational or tactical facilitation. ‘Tactical’ strategic facilitators tend to work within the confines of a single workshop (to achieve a specific outcome). The ‘strategic facilitator’ acting at a strategic level is designing and facilitating a series of events/workshops that have their origin in a strategic context. They leave the change agenda to the managers/leaders. Their primary interest is in the strategic process. They design a way for an organisation to do the following:

  • Tackle a problem
  • Develop solutions
  • Create new ideas
  • Design a process to deliver a strategic pathway.


2. Change agenda and strategic process

The fundamental thing you need to understand is the difference between change agenda and strategic process:

  • Change agenda/objective is what the organisation is aiming to achieve. It is the issues facing them, the item on the strategic agenda and the topic of the various workshops/events. People have to achieve deliverables, to resolve issues and explore ideas.
  • Strategic process encompasses the format and the models and tools that the strategic facilitator uses with the organisation to help achieve an outcome. Tactical facilitators tend primarily to use tools and techniques. Strategic facilitators tend to use models.


3. Levels of organisational process awareness

Not all organisations are at the same stage of development, and the role of the strategic facilitator and the contract he makes with an organisation will vary accordingly.

  • The dysfunctional organisation gives little heed to process. It prefers rigid, well-defined ways of tackling issues. It even actively dislikes and distrusts process, and disagreement is seen as dissention.
  • Transitional organisations, on the other hand, have learnt that process is valuable. They begin to apply process, recognising its worth. A transitional organisational is recognisable as follows: staff at all levels contribute to debate and decisions, if not equally, then in a more balanced way; they can also work in cross-functional groups, trusting each other to deliver.
  • Process Aware organisations are the rarity! They have adopted process thinking. Each action is prepared with process to go with it. Strategic goals only make the strategy when there is a process to accomplish it.


4. ‘Red’ and ‘green’ thinking and strategic facilitation

Whenever the principles explained in this topic are cascaded across an organisation, one of the concepts that managers should be taught is ‘red’ and ‘green’ thinking and the difference between the two. Somehow, by giving them colours, people recognise them as different and begin to realise that they are both important and both depend on each other. You cannot deploy strategic process without an appropriate change agenda and you need strategic process to tackle a difficult scenario (change agenda).

  • The strategic facilitator is a green person: they are concerned with selecting the strategic process to go with the change agenda. Often it is best, when there is a complex change scenario, to have someone who is committed to green thinking and focuses on that and that alone.
  • The strategic facilitator should not get involved in the red change agenda though they will, of course, consider it when they are proposing strategic process.


5. Models, tools and format

Different change agendas will be different enough to justify a different strategic process and the use of different models and tools to deliver them. If we accept the premise that change agenda and strategic process have a symbiotic relationship, then if the nature of the change agenda changes, so should the format and tools being deployed.

  • Format is the way you use the resources in the organisation. It is the application of people to strategic process. There are fundamentally four different formats: all, group, all to one and one to all.
  • A good strategic facilitator can ‘hear’ the change agenda words that lead them to use a particular model or tool.
  • A strategic facilitator should not have favourite models or tools; each one should be used as and when they are required.


6. Pace of change and degrees of uncertainly

Change invariably takes place in response to the impact of key drivers. The force and imminence of these drivers dictates the degree of change needed and the timescale of change involved.

  • Certainty is rare since the financial crisis; organisations rarely find that the external environment is stable and that their only challenge is innovation.
  • The next stage is complexity, where the key drivers are relatively stable, but an internal response is needed to ensure that the organisation stays relevant. This is also unusual in the current situation. At this stage, the complexity ensures that change will take two and a half times as long as in times of certainty.
  • Uncertainty is much more prevalent: the external environment is in turmoil and the key driver analysis has revealed that major change is inevitable. At this stage, change will take four times longer than at the certainty stage.


7. Process Iceberg® Organisation model explained

At the heart of this approach to facilitation, lies the strategic Process Iceberg® Organisation model. It provides an explanation of much of what happens in organisations and change. It takes the form of an iceberg, with strategic focus and values at the tip, then organisational structure and high-level processes, followed by organisational systems and procedures, then roles, skills, attributes and knowledge, leading to positive buy-in at the bottom layer. The strategic Process Iceberg® is both a theoretical model and a practical way of auditing situations. The model is

  • Hierarchical: from the top down, each level has to be in place before the next one comes into play
  • Sequential: each layer follows on from the previous one
  • Inter-dependant: each level relies on the level above.


8. Contracting with the organisation and the client

The strategic facilitator needs to have an effective contract at the levels of strategic focus and structure/high-level processes in order to be successful in designing, developing and managing the strategic process to support projects and change. Setting the ‘style’ in which the strategic facilitator will operate follows on from the analysis of the nature of the task.

  • The nature of the change – uncertain, complex or certain
  • The level of process awareness of the organisation
  • The time available to embed the change.

When it comes to process responsibilities, the strategic facilitator should ensure that the contract is explicit and agreed, because the success of the change will depend on the effective interaction between the strategic facilitator and the organisation. The strategic facilitator should

  • Propose the most appropriate level of intervention if the organisation is dysfunctional
  • Suggest the appropriate level of intervention if the organisation is transitional
  • Ask the senior management team /change leader to suggest the level of responsibility and intervention if the SMT/organisation is process aware.


9. Planning the agenda strategic process

Facilitating an event is similar to writing a piece of choreography for a complicated play or musical. The first stage is to agree the (red thinking) change agenda, its goals, the degree of certainty/complexity/uncertainty involved and the objectives. This done, the strategic process, the time required and any necessary preparation can be determined.  Strategic process should be

  • Elegant – it should ‘look’ good; should work well in the situation and, although it may be hard, it should feel worth doing
  • Fit for purpose – this is similar to the above but it is about using the most appropriate model, tool or technique for the change agenda (not too big and clumsy and not too frail and ineffective)
  • Appropriate for the organisation – some tools need to be used by expert artisans with specialist training in their use, and the same is true in facilitating strategic process: some models, tools and techniques are just too hard for some organisations to use and, although you know that they would do the job, the organisation may not have the strategic process experience required. Better to use two tools or a different model than have the organisation lose confidence in its own ability.


10. Dealing with problems in organisations

If the strategic facilitator notices something amiss in the way the organisation is functioning, then they need to use the tool known by the acronym SCA: symptom, cause, action. A good strategic facilitator will be scanning up and down the levels of the strategic Process Iceberg®.

  • They will be assessing the nature of the change agenda to see if it is stable: that is, not becoming more uncertain or diversifying.
  • They will be auditing the strategic process and format to see if it is delivering the intended output.
  • They will be watching over the feedback to check understanding and buy-in.
  • They will be discerning departmental actions to see if there is compatibility and integration or lack of harmony and conflict.
  • They will be looking for (emotional) symptoms to see if they have missed anything.


11. When and where to use the models and tools

The chief models and tools used by a strategic facilitator are

  • The Process Iceberg® Organisation model
  • Feedback model
  • Symptom, cause, action (SCA)
  • Linked icebergs
  • Summarise, Propose, Output
  • E versus V (economic versus values imperative)
  • UIA=O+E (understanding, implication, application, ownership, empowerment)
  • Perception, trust and agreement
  • Strategic readiness for change
  • Spider plotting
  • Key driver analysis
  • Stakeholder mapping.


12. Using the Process Iceberg® Organisation model

This model is the core of the strategic facilitation process. It provides the framework for analysing organisational problems, implementing strategy and aligning different parts of the organisation.

  • The model should be used at any stage when it becomes apparent that there are organisational issues that need to be explored or when the organisation intends to implement a strategy across the business.
  • When implementing strategy or change, it is important to start at the top and work down through the different levels of the Process Iceberg®.
  • When tackling organisational issues, it is important to start at the bottom and work upwards through the levels.


13. Feedback Model

Alongside the Process Iceberg® and UIA=O+E, the Feedback Model is the most powerful model in the change process. In Uncertainty, there is a need to determine the issues, to find the real questions and to identify what the change agenda needs to address. This can be daunting and yet it is often discovered by the very act of searching for it – IF and only IF the organisation uses the Feedback Model. This provides the means to

  • Ensure understanding between people
  • Check understanding during the understanding stage of change
  • ‘Climb’ out of uncertainty
  • Explore perceptions during the change process
  • Create a feedback loop so that the change agent and the change leader know that everyone has understood and is aware of all the key messages.


14. SCA and analysing organisational issues

The Process Iceberg® Organisation model is also used when an ‘issue’ emerges that is related to levels of the Process Iceberg®. This may occur when the strategic facilitator is using the SCA (symptom, cause, action) tool or when the organisation is examining a problem and someone says something, for example, like: ‘Well you aren’t going to fix that unless we revise the process.’ Any comment that highlights that the problem is in the RSAKs, systems, high-level processes or the strategic focus/values should lead the strategic facilitator to propose using the Process Iceberg® as a diagnostic model.


15. Linking icebergs to ensure compatibility

In many situations change fails when two organisations merge or one organisation takes over another one. On the surface they may look similar: same markets and same customers. However, in Process Iceberg® terms they may be very different.

  • Groups from each organisation should draw their Process Iceberg® on the wall.
  • The strategic facilitator should then invite each organisation to identify their strategic focus and values.
  • Each group should critically explore any differences, discrepancies and potential sources of conflict.
  • This process should continue at every level of the Process Iceberg® until all the issues have been surfaced and have either been resolved or are subject to a board-level sponsored project.


16. Summarise, Propose, Output (SPO)

This process technique is used to make new proposals and to indicate what needs to be done and to help the organisation move forward. Use when the organisation needs to look at new ways of working or operating and these need to be explained coherently.

  • Summarise the current situation or what is happening.
  • Propose a way forward, a strategic intent or capability response, which will form a key part of the change agenda.
  • Outcome – give an idea of the intended outcome/output.


17. Economic versus values imperative

It is important to note that at the top of the iceberg is strategic focus and values. However, the ‘strategic focus’ alone has the potential to cause a disjointed and unbalanced culture. To counteract this and to ensure that the organisation is in harmony with itself, the values need to be embedded.

  • Take the values and identify what kind of structure and high-level processes are required to make them real.
  • Do this in conjunction with and alongside the strategic (economic) implementation.
  • Take each value and brain-dump the structure and high-level processes, systems and processes and roles, skills, attributes and knowledge that need to be in place to make the values real.
  • Where there is a conflict between the economic and values imperatives this must be flagged up and dealt with by senior management.


18. UIA=O+E

The model should be used from the start and also throughout the strategic implementation process, as a reminder that the first stage in engagement is building Understanding of the reasons and rationale for any change.

  • Understanding – sharing the background, context and contributing factors
  • Implication/impact – identifying the implication and impact of the current situation
  • Application – exploring the way forward and the response
  • Ownership – awareness of the situation and full ownership of the way forward
  • Empowerment – staff feeling empowered to take responsibility for the action plan


19. Perceiving ourselves and others

This is a model for exploring inter-group working. It is used as a tool to help people explore issues that affect the working relationship between groups, departments or individuals. It should be used with groups/departments where there is a willingness to build bridges and improve the quality of relationships. Ask members of each group/department to think about the following images they have of themselves and then interpret what this says about them:

The first five or six words that come to mind

  • A vehicle
  • A TV or film character
  • A food
  • A musical instrument.


20. Strategic readiness matrix

The strategic readiness matrix is used to assess and audit the organisation’s strategic readiness and its current level of sophistication in the use of management practice.

  • The group or individuals fill in a chart to assess how much the importance of KDs is recognised, the clarity of the strategic focus, the capacity of high-level processes to deliver and the level of engagement.
  • Where does the organisation need to be if it is to be successful in the upcoming strategic review?
  • Where is the organisation currently?
  • What needs to happen to bridge the gap between now and where we need to be?


21. Spider plotting

The Spider diagram method is a useful way to get a snapshot of a range of factors. It’s more visual than a formal questionnaire or interviews, giving an immediate visual impression of a group's thinking. It can be used as part of any workshop where the group is auditing/scoring such things as factors, issues or potential opportunities. It can be used to audit factors or to explore needs, plotting geographical or organisational ideas.

  1. Draw a circle on flipchart paper on the floor or the wall. For each factor to audit, draw a line from the centre to the circle, writing the title/name of the factor at the end of each line. Finally, draw spider lines/circles, working from the inside to the outside of the circle.
  2. Gather the participants around the model on the floor or on wall. Ask them to put one dot for each item: if the score is high, the dot should be nearer the outside of the circle; if it’s low, the dot should be close to the centre of the spider.
  3. For an all format, cluster the scores on each axis and look for the range.
  4. Present and discuss the result with the group.


22. Key driver analysis

This should be used regularly, in order to ensure that the organisation is monitoring the factors for change and to prevent the organisation becoming complacent.

  • Collect data about the external environment from as many sources as possible.
  • Sort the data into ‘themes’ that will become the key drivers (KDs), together with the underpinning influences.
  • Plot the KDs on a likelihood/impact four-box model and identify the most significant KDs affecting the organisation’s future.
  • Write a description of each KD that can be used to explain the KD to anyone else in the organisation.
  • Identify the core values that will underpin the organisation and write an ethos description that can explain the values to staff, customers and suppliers. Do not forget to identify and integrate capabilities that will be needed to support the core values.


23. Stakeholder mapping

The purpose of this tool is to identify the key relationships with stakeholders. It is used when it is important to understand the relationship with stakeholders.

  • Identify all the stakeholders and write them on Post-Its™, using different colours to represent different types of stakeholder (for example, internal, external, customer or supplier).
  • Identify what the issues are in relation to the stakeholders (for example, strength of the relationship, lack of relationship, significance). Create a key of the issues/factors that the group needs to explore and write them on Post-Its™.
  • Decide how to reflect/show these factors in a diagram/model (for example, thickness of lines, boxes, arrows).