The word intervention comes from the Latin meaning to “Interfere into the affairs of others.” Intervention involves injecting oneself into the conversation and process of the group in an attempt to help improve the problem solving effort. Because intervention literally involves breaking into the task and process of the group, it should be done only after careful observation and conclusion that the group cannot help itself.
Every individual and every facilitator has a defined and predictable pattern of behavior. As a result, every facilitator tends to have a patterned approach to intervention. Task oriented facilitators tend to focus on the content of the task and less on the process of the group. They normally use a high degree of intervention to control the group and to keep their focus and purpose. They tend to operate in a telling mode and to intervene as summarizers, closers and expert advice givers.
Social oriented facilitators, on the other hand, tend to be more focused on the well being of the group and less concerned about getting the task accomplished. They intervene to reduce conflict, discuss and resolve the concerns or feelings of everyone in the group. They will focus their interventions on issues of inclusion and contentment and operate in a caring and supportive mode.
Avoidance oriented facilitators will see their role primary as observers of the group. They intervene reluctantly or not at all. Sometimes their presence serves to remind group members of key ground rules and of their responsibility to each other. Alternatively, an avoidance oriented facilitator may merely be utilized to record on behalf of the team.
Ideally, facilitators will have concern for both tasks and relationships. These participation oriented facilitators will raise questions about how the group is treating its members as well as how effectively the group is accomplishing its work. They will often take an asking approach, using questioning techniques to intervene while allowing group members to realize they can solve their own problems by sharing information.
Regardless of the approach, a facilitator should ask four critical questions before intervening: What is the purpose and when, where and how should I intervene? Plan the intervention to avoid any mistakes that could derail the group.
The Purpose of Intervention
A facilitator may intervene when a group needs greater clarity about directions or details of their activity. This is called a procedural intervention. For instance, a group member or the entire group may not be clear about “what to do” or “where to meet”.
Another valid reason for an intervention is when the group needs better understanding of a major problem solving concept or technique. These are conceptual interventions. For instance, the group may need some help in using root cause analysis or may not see the benefit of framing their conversation with a matrix. Finally, a group may require help to overcome an obstacle that requires a process intervention. For instance, some group members may dominate the conversation and suppress the contribution of others.
Facilitators often find process intervention the most challenging because most of a group’s focus is generally on content and very little awareness exists within the group about process obstacles. Therefore, when a facilitator intervenes to observe and/or correct an interaction problem, the group may actively resist. One way to avoid resistance is to have the group observe and interpret their own behavior. This procedure is known as process check.
The facilitator selects a factor against which the group’s effectiveness can be measured. Factors might include listening, participation, and leadership. Each team member individually rates the group’s effectiveness on the factor selected. Team members share their individual views and discuss what has affected their effectiveness positively and negatively and set goals for improvement.
The expression “timing is everything” applies to facilitation. Often the right intervention fails to positively impact the group because it has occurred too soon or too late. A facilitator must judge whether a group will benefit from an intervention or it will be disruptive.
Typically, a facilitator can intervene immediately because the consequence of not intervening would have some serious impact on the group.
Secondly, the facilitator could intervene at an appropriate opportunity (i.e. at the end of a topic discussion or at some change in activity). The facilitator might also want to allow a small issue to go uncorrected to see if the group will correct.
Finally, the intervention could occur at some later time, even at another meeting because the intervention could be more acceptable at that time. For instance, a group may realize later that they have hit an impasse. At that time, group members are generally more receptive to feedback.
Those who lead process improvement teams will find that the concept of continuous improvement can be rewarding and inspiring for team members. The more practice that facilitators and groups have in solving process issues using these methods, the more comfortable they will become with the process.
The processes that we have described are flexible enough to be used when solving simple or complex process issues. Most groups will feel more comfortable using these techniques to address smaller or simpler issues before moving to the more complex process issues.
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