Adam Kahane speaks from a place of empathy, and with a surprising amount of tenderness in his new book – Facilitating Breakthrough: How to Remove Obstacles, Bridge Differences, and Move Forward Together. For him, the implementation of techniques within a professionalized context is not a fundamentally complex affair in-and-of-itself. The complexities lie with the chameleonic profiles of all the individuals involved, and how in spite and because of those differences a methodology can be tailored finding in such contrast a source of strength, rather than cause for argument or problematic dynamic.
“One basic characteristic of all complex and conflictual situations is that they do not simply present problems that have solutions. They are problematic situations that different participants see as problematic from different perspectives and for different reasons, so no stakeholder can have the expertise or credibility to diagnose a problem and prescribe and administer a solution. Advocating for one correct definition of the problem and one correct solution is therefore inadequate,” Kahane writes. “Collaboration requires engaging with difference and conflict, rather than avoiding them. Participants need to go beyond both the vertical “We have the right answer” and the horizontal “We each have our own answer.”
Such an approach is required for participants to be able to escape from dead-end answers and discover new ones. The participants in (Mont Fleur) didn’t simply listen to each other empathetically; they also argued fiercely and at length to hammer out their collective contribution to transforming their situation.”
By making the process seem doable, and providing a step-by-step playbook of how to get there, Kahane does both the reader and the subjects he showcases as examples of implementation justice. Everything really clicks by the book’s ending, which substitutes Kahane’s emphasis on data and statistics for a viscerally stimulating, touching tribute to what one can accomplish when such institutions are solidified within company doctrine. “It can seem straightforward to enable and balance the drives of power, love, and justice when you read about them in a book or work with them in a relaxed setting. But under the tension and stress of high complexity and low control, most people contract to their comfort zone and favor one or two of these drives. A facilitator must continuously attend to rebalancing and in particular to strengthening their own weaker drives,” Kahane writes. “This is the tango of transformative facilitation. The facilitators and participants attentively employ the five sets of paired moves and five shifts, as and when needed, moving back and forth between vertical and horizontal, wholes and parts, power and love, by turns slow and fast, in balance and off balance.
They engage power when they contribute and grow. They engage love when they connect and unite. They engage justice to provide their movement with purpose, direction, and structure.”