Monday, May 18, 2009


I was reminded by The Times how deferred gratification applies to facilitation:

Walter Mischel, a professor of psychology, tested whether children could resist eating a marshmallow for 15 minutes if they were promised two after that time. After being left alone, a third of the children ate the marshmallow straight away, a third cracked during the 15 minutes and a third successfully resisted temptation. Those who refrained did better academically on the whole.
I think I see something akin to this when working with groups on strategy. Many individuals and groups are understandably keen to solve the problems that meetings inevitably identify. After all, if you've found an issue that needs dealing with, why waste time, why not get on and devise a solution? Metaphorically, if you have a marshmallow in front of you and you're hungry, why not eat it?

Strategically, a period of reflection interposed between identifying an issue and agreeing a resolution, is critical. Firstly, it allows the problem to be explored by the whole team, making it a shared issue. Secondly, it allows the team's thinking to develop, moving from symptoms to causes; intervention at a causal level is more likely to succeed whereas intervention at the level of effects can be counter-productive. Thirdly, it helps restore the balance between process and outcome - see previous blog entry.

As I write, I'm aware that the marshmallow metaphor is far from perfect and can't support much further comparison with facilitation - but I will take some marshmallows to my next strategy session anyway.

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