Facilitation and Group Dynamics – “WIGOH” by Rita Sterling

“The Earth is running out of energy resources, but there is a source of special energy which has scarcely been tapped.  It is the power available in groups, the power of group synergy.  Tapping into group synergy is made possible through powerful group facilitation.” The Art of Facilitation by Hunter, Bailey, & Taylor[1]

Powerful group facilitation is achieved in part by the ability to notice “what is going on here”.  Twenty-five years ago, when I worked for Great American Bank facilitating team building, I was introduced to a concept called “WIGOH”, i..e. “What is going on here?”  This concept has been one of the most important skills I have learned in my career as a facilitator.  What it speaks to is the attention one needs to pay to group dynamics in addition to the content of what a group is discussing.  This skill and the corresponding group process intervention, can make or break a group’s ultimate success. 

In order to facilitate group synergy effectively, you need to pay attention to the emotional state of group members, their body language including tone of voice, what they choose to focus on, their perspective, their mental models, how they are relating to other members, whether they are contributing or not, how their problem solving and decision making process is working or not working, their level of resistance to a suggestion, etc.  A facilitator is processing many things at the same time not the least of which is whether or not the agenda, and consequently the desired outcomes of the group discussion, is being achieved.   Everything that the facilitator is able to attend to is taken into consideration for possible intervention/redirection.  The facilitator has to quickly assess “What is going on here?” and then determine what actions he/she needs to take in response to what is being witnessed.  If you are a person who can only attend to the content of the discussion, and therefore cannot pay attention to WIGOH, in many cases, you will not be able to optimize group synergy.

In a week-long course at National Training Labs, a premier organization development training company, I learned another important aspect of group dynamics.  People will sometimes agree to the direction the majority of the group has determined it should go, when in fact they are opposed to the vision, the goal, and/or the plan.  This is what is called “pseudo-consensus”.  Pseudo-consensus can totally sabotage the success of a group/team.  When someone says they will go along to get along, this should be seen as a potential red flag signaling possible resistance and even sabotage to the group’s mission in the long-run.  A facilitator needs to sense when this is happening and draw out the fears/concerns/facts that the person has not yet expressed or has not been adequately addressed to their satisfaction.  Sometimes, a whole new direction can come about because someone has finally expressed  a key missing element that no one else had thought about.

[1] “The Art of Facilitation”, by Dale Hunter, Anne Bailey, Bill Taylor pg. x-Introduction