Leaders I’ve worked with often express frustration when they feel clear about the equity work they are addressing, clear with others about where the group needs to go – but somehow the group gets stuck. Some members seem resistant, some aren’t engaging – for whatever reason, important work isn’t getting done.
When I’m coaching leaders in these situations, I often start by asking them to step back and get curious about what their people might be thinking, experiencing, and feeling. At the National Equity Project we have found great value in the work of John Heron who reminds us: “The dynamic of the group is grounded in the life of emotion and feeling. A crucial role of the facilitator is to manage the dynamic at the affective level.”
Particularly with groups that are just getting started, or have just never seemed to “gel”, we consider how Heron’s “3 Forms of Anxiety” may be playing out:
Acceptance Anxiety (WHO): To what extent do people feel they belong and are valued on this team? How well do they know one another or feel comfortable expressing what they believe, want or need? How are these needs playing out across differences of race, gender, sexuality, role, experience?
Orientation Anxiety (WHY & HOW): How well to people understand why they are here and what they’re up to together? To what extent do they feel they’ve been a part of developing the team’s direction, or feel identified with the work of the team? How clear are they about what to expect about how the team will operate as they work together toward a goal?
Performance Anxiety (WHAT): To what degree do people feel confident that they have what they need to do what’s demanded? What levels of will, skill, knowledge & capacity are needed to tackle the equity challenges this team is taking responsibility for? Are they ready? Do they need more support?
All of these fears are human needs that play out in different ways for people – especially when there are changes in a group’s membership or focus. And all of them require both in-the-moment facilitation skills and thoughtful planning and design of team meeting time – to find ongoing ways to give time and support to address the needs in service of the equity work the team is working toward.