Can facilitation save lives?

Think & Make

Can facilitation save lives?

During a training session, I’ve found myself in a captivating survival exercise…

We were the only 6 survivors of a plane crash in the Canadian subarctic area. Before the plane drowned with all communication devices, we had time to save some equipment. Soaked and homeless, we had to agree on a survival strategy with the equipment that was left.

We were on our own in a deserted and hostile area.

Our task was to set a priority order on the equipment for our survival. First, we had to create our list, and then, thanks to communication, the entire group had to create another one and everyone had to approve it. Our survival was depending on our group cohesion and on the tools we put on our list.

Being a professional facilitator and passionate about the way groups work, I felt the need to help our group to succeed in this task.

From experience, a group has a better chance of succeeding if one of its members chooses to step back of the task to help others with communication and the working method so that everyone feels listened to.

While everybody was making their list, I thought about a visual canvas that I use when I am in an urgent meeting. This is why I structured the discussion like this.


Getting to know each other and their skills


When everybody was done with their list, I asked them to introduce themselves and to explain which skills or knowledge they have that could be useful for our survival. I also took the time to explain my job of group facilitator and ask them if I could be this group facilitator. Everyone quickly agreed.

After the first round, we’ve realized that two people are first responders and that one person knows survival technics in a hostile area. The others knew how to make nodes, how to build things, and about the fauna and flora.

This step allowed us to create a feeling of trust between the different members of the group and for the rest of the exercise.


Situation analysis: Evaluation and risks priorities


The next step was to list and classify each risk so we could take care of them. First of all, we had to protect ourselves from the cold ( get dry and find shelter ), find access to food and drinkable water, a way to let people know where we are and a way to protect ourselves from wild animals.

The opinion of the first responders was decisive. However, encouraging the more silent people of the group to give their opinion was very useful because we got new information and survival strategies that made us improve our point of view on the situation.


Tools analysis and decision making


We then reviewed, one by one, each tool we had saved from the crash and we asked ourselves how could we use this object differently, what are all its use? That’s how objects that appeared useless at first became very useful when looking at them from another direction.

By proposing to create three categories of tools: the ‘useful for sure’, the ‘I don’t know’ and the ‘less useful’, we easily established a classification hierarchy. By inciting each survivor to give their point of view, we gave legitimacy to the classification.

Therefore, we quickly reached a consensus because we had a common vision of the situation and everyone’s opinion was taken into account during the development of our solution.

In short, we survived. Our list matched, with only a few exceptions, with the one established by survival experts. We got creative with some of the tools. This was just a fictional exercise, but if we compare our group with the second one, who did not have a group facilitator, this is what we’ve found :

With a group facilitator Without a group facilitator
The group kept their cool The group was anxious, with people getting upset
A deep attitude of listening and respects toward each group member Everyone wants to be right
Quick agreement on who took the facilitator position Illegitimate taking of leadership
Functional and effective roles Sterile shelter roles
Trust No trust
Time-saving Late
Clear process Chaotic process
Good situation analysis Little situation analysis
Alternatives strategies are taken into account The survivors don’t listen to each other


This kind of situation can happen at any time during group meetings. What if, you too, had a group facilitator to help you save time, stay calm and increase your chance of succeeding? Want to discuss it?

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