The InterAction Collection

Treasured Article - A jewel from the treasure chest of the InterAction archive

An Executive Retreat Facilitation Experience Using SF – by Paolo Terni

Jan 30, 2022

jenny-clark and paolo-terni

A review of Paolo Terni’s Case study by Jenny Clarke

I have chosen this “treasure” as an elegant example of the way that SF “leads from behind” in Insoo Kim Berg’s words, or “gets out of the way” as Paolo himself expresses it. It is not clear to me from the article whether he was explicit in describing SF to the team; it is clear that his non-expert style was what appealed to them. Another element of Paolo’s modest approach is the way he shares credit – to the team he was facilitating of course, but also to other SF practitioners whose ideas he adopted during the session: Peter Szabó, Haesun Moon and Jesper Hankovszky Christiansen.

As often happens to modest SF coaches, the work with the senior executives arose because the senior VP was impressed with the single coaching session he had had with Paolo. He wanted to use Paolo’s facilitative style for a day at his team’s annual retreat to help develop their cohesion. At that time, the team could be characterised as “old guard” and “new guard” and the VP wanted to see a more productive “can-do” ethos.

Before the day itself, Paolo’s preparation was exemplary. First, he spent time clarifying the VP’s objectives and deciding with him to conduct the team development day before the day to be spent discussing business issues. Then he sent a letter of invitation to all the participants, asking them to notice any small signs that indicated that the team had the potential to become even more effective. And third, he had a strategic plan for the day in mind. Finally, he was alert to the way things actually unfolded and the flexibility to adapt.

I particularly liked the way that Paolo set the scene, first lightening the mood with “positive gossip” and then asking the team to take a third person perspective and discuss the attributes of a notional “best team ever”. His specific questions encouraged behavioural detail and generated a lot of energy, engagement and fun. His reflection about the (slightly) less satisfactory (to him) response to the Miracle Question which followed this activity is interesting: he comments that next time he would be more specific in asking for concrete behavioural details. I find this interesting because it reminds us how easy it is to revert to default generalisations unless we are held to the task: even though the group had just experienced the power of the concrete, when talking about “the best team ever”, they were not so good at doing this when talking about themselves!

Nevertheless, Paolo’s detailed exploration of the preferred future by way of the Miracle Question is a great model: using different coloured post-its, team members working as individuals listed signs that the miracle had happened, what they would notice themselves DOING differently, other peoples’ perspectives and instances of the Miracle happening already.

The afternoon session was when Paolo’s flexibility and ability to get out of the way really shone. Phrases like “you all know who you need to talk to ….” and “do whatever you feel is best for you to do”, kept himself out of it and left the responsibility and accountability where they belonged – with the individuals.

Finally, Paolo’s reflections on his own work are a good prompt to us all to make this a routine part of our practice, asking what did I do well and will do more of; what would I do differently next time and what important lessons have I learned?

Jenny Clarke

jenny@sfwork.com www.sfwork.com

pdf: Workshop Slides

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Jenny Clarke
Jenny Clarke
SFiO Reviewed Practitioner
InterAction Contributor
SFiO Contributor

Jenny Clarke is the co-Director of the Centre for Solutions Focus at Work (sfwork). Following a long career in the energy industry she has spent the last 15 years as an independent facilitator and coach. She works with large organisations, groups and individuals adapting to change and as a personal coach to managers and directors. She loves travelling and has worked in both hemispheres and east and west of the Greenwich Meridian.