Yesterday I had the pleasure to facilitate two meetings with project professionals in one day. Both about facilitating projects. A lot of questions where about the differences and similarities of the jobs. Are they different? Or do they belong to the same category? Does a project manager facilitate or does he or she needs a facilitator. And why doesn’t this facilitator stick to the well paying jobs he is good at: portfolio management?
These questions are a bit like “why is a raven like a writing desk?” The question was posed to Alice in Wonderland. Nobody tells her an answer, but the most plausible is: “because there is a b in both”. According to Martin Gardner (The Annotated Alice).
Both jobs require each other’s skills. They complement each other. That’s why we tend to think they’re opposites. That’s why most facilitators find it difficult to use their practical, analytical and hands-on competencies. They feel they will be constrained by these. Or why project managers refrain from using their emotional, irrational and subconscious side. They assumed they might be overwhelmed by them. So both remain in awe and jealous about the other.
In every meeting, there will be a part where a rational, structured approach leading towards actions by participants is needed. In every project there will be a meeting where emotional and irrational behaviour has to be addressed. The issues grow worse, when we stick to what we’re successful at.
Maintaining, as a project professional, a proven, data-driven, fact-oriented, money-wise, rational straight-on target course, will lead to a collision. Participants feeling estranged, lost, unwanted, resistance. “Implementing a complex ICT system (already failed twice) with 18 different functions, while merging two organizations, in four months time is just another SMART target”, a project manager remarked. It might not lead to mutiny, but it will bring sabotage, back-stabbing, unaccounted losses, unexplainable actions. Stuckness.
On the other hand, facilitating the well meant expression of feelings, diving deeper and deeper for the underlying truths, striving for ever more creative innovative daydreams, won’t bring happiness to all. You might end up offering the attainable for the ideal. “Just stay close to your hearts, hold each other’s hands, breath in, out and respects what comes out”. Yeah, sure. Utopia. The quality of life will be high, while the conditions will deteriorate.
It is not either project manager or facilitator. Nor trying to compromise! To find a middle way. Better not take the best of both worlds and mix them into a tasteless brew. That wouldn’t be good for any one.
Like every paradoxical dilemma, resolutions comes from the emergence out of the immersion. As one participant aptly remarked: “we have to take part in facilitating projects”. She both meant “we have to participate” and “we have take our part, our role”. We have to learn to work with the differences. Perceive together, while working as the opposite manifestations of the same process. Like every good companionship, we have to practice together. We don’t need each other, we can rely on each other. “Because there is a human in both”.