What does it take for people to align behind change? Six top tips & tools from #FacWeekchat

#FacWeekChat 2015This is the question that brought together 69 facilitation, communications and change management professionals over two one-hour twitter chats on October 23, during International Facilitation Week. In this post I’ll share six top tips and some of the tools that were shared in response.

The twitter chats were co-hosted by Michael Ambjorn of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), Faith Forster of the Change Management Institute (CMI) and myself for the International Association of Facilitators (IAF). Our aims were to bring people together to connect with and learn from each other on a topic of mutual interest, and also to make connections and foster broader collaboration between our associations and between our professions.

Participants were located as far afield as Canada, USA, Serbia, UK and India. Our experience of change included local and international work with large and small organisations in a variety of sectors and industries including health, education, IT, faith and international aid & development.

So what did we learn? What does it take for people to align behind change?

1. The context must be conducive. People align behind change “when external pressures have made the need for change evident”.  “The facilitator as midwife can only help a client that is already pregnant”!

2. High level vision and goals, and ideally values as well, must be clear and shared. Alignment happens when there is “a clear purpose… before a decision on what to do, a focus on energy & momentum for change”.

3. There must be inclusive and authentic participation. “Holistic participation in co-creating vision is the key to create buy in”.  “Co-design, co-creation, collaboration”. “Convene all with a stake in change”. “Everyone wants change, but no-one wants to be changed”.  Alignment does not happen “when when people forget that changes requires the involvement of others” or “when change is imposed from above without proper consultation or facilitation”.

4. Humility, patience and deep listening is required. “Be honest and transparent about the challenges that will be faced, otherwise when failure happens you lose people’s trust”. “Take time, constant process checks, take time, listen, take time, acknowledge resistance (did I mention take time?)”. “Come to terms with the antibodies in the system and talk candidly about them”. “The disruptive power of good listening skills”. “Pay as much attention to the intangibles amongst people as to what is explicitly being said”.

5. Be open to what needs to emerge, while remaining focused on the vision. “Start with possibilities rather than a project plan” and “be aware of groups emerging needs… [allow] the group synergy to flow”.  Alignment did not happen “when people didn’t respond to emerging needs, and when personal issues took precidence over common vison”.

6. Nevertheless, leadership must also be be clear, decisive and inspiring.  “Be a leader that makes tough decisions. The notion of change is disruptive, but strong leadership can mitigate people risk”. Make a “powerful invitation, expressed openly with integrity”. “Discussions about change are so often are negative, ie. about failure – we need to inspire people, enable them”.

What tools and techniques can help?

Favoured approaches to addressing the challenges of aligment and change included the Art of Hosting/Art of Participatory Leadership, Organisational Development, Quality Management, Coaching and Mediation, Graphic Facilitation (especially in multilingual contexts), the work of Perry Timms on ‘hacking adaptable organisations’ and of course ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP).

Some of the particular tools referenced were Story Boarding and Lead with a Story, My Goals My Action Steps, Power/Interest Matrix, RASCI, Ladder of inference, CSITO’s Constellation Collaboration model and the ToP Focused Conversation method.

What can we learn from each other?

What can communications and change management professionals learn from facilitation? “If you want to bring people with you you have to involve others, and facilitation is a great way to do that”. Facilitation “can help transform communications ‘from cascade to conversation'” – “communicators can learn from facilitators about how to structure conversations once people are engaged”. “Change management can get caught up in project management processes – facilitation keeps the focus on what is important”. “At a simple level, facilitation can help managers learn to run more productive and enjoyable meetings”.

What can facilitators learn from communications and change management? How “to get people ‘in the room’ for facilitation, to engage all those who will never be ‘in the room’… and to communicate the results”.  Also “good use of data gathering tools”, “ways to measure/evaluate the outcomes of their facilitation work” and how to “draw out stories as they relate to the task at hand, and use these stories for sense making”.

We could all benefit from each other’s professional standards and competency models – IAF’s Facilitation Core Competencies, IABC’s communications Global Standard andCMI’s Change Management Foundation & Master Competencies.

For more of what we shared, including links to many of the examples and tools referred to, see the edited highlights on Storify or find all 707 tweets at #FacWeekchat on Twitter.

Please add your own thoughts in a comment below, or of course on Twitter with the hashtag #FacWeekchat!

For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

You can connect with me also by joining my free facilitation webinars online, and IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere.

Facilitation case study: Getting Ready for Wigan LINK with Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council

This ToP facilitation case study from the archive was first written for and published in 2009 by ICA:UK.

Getting Ready for Wigan LinkMembership of a LINK – from “Getting Ready for LINKs”, Department of Health, August 2007


Every Local Authority in the country was tasked by the Department of Health with contracting an organisation to “host”, or administer and support, a new Local Involvement Network or “LINK” from April 1st 2008.  These are to provide a new mechanism for public and patient involvement in health and social care services within the boundaries of the local authority, and to replace the pre-existing Public & Patient Involvement Forums which each dealt only with the health services of a particular NHS trust.

Wigan Council was keen to consult with the various relevant stakeholders to establish how they would like the Wigan LINK to be tailored to local needs and aspirations, and what that would mean for the terms of reference for the contract with the host organisation; and in the process to build capacity for effective consultation and involvement in health and social care in the borough, and build commitment and enthusiasm to make the new structure work for Wigan.

ICA:UK was contracted in September 2007 to design and deliver a process to meet these aims, having just delivered a separate series of multi-stakeholder facilitated review and planning events for the Council over the summer and autumn.


In fact the aims and scope of the project weren’t altogether clear at the outset, but with the client we were able to clarify these as we developed a series of events to meet the client’s needs.

A pair of half-day launch workshops were held in October, in different parts of the Borough – to launch the process, reflect on and learn from participants’ experience of involvement in health & social care in the past, and clarify the aims and scope of the project for those willing and able to get involved.  Participants were invited on the basis of their potential capacity to consult between them with the full range of relevant stakeholder groups across the borough.

A training day was then held in November to equip participants with the principles, methods and confidence to go out and consult with their groups in a rigorous and consistent way.  A half-day closing event in early December was designed to enable participants to reflect on and learn from their application of what they had learned, to weave together the results of their consultations into a single consensus vision for the new Wigan LINK, and to identify the implications of this vision for the terms of reference of the host organisation, in terms of the skills, knowledge, attitudes & approach required to deliver it.

The tailored training and consultation process we developed combined the strengths of both ICA’s ToP (Technology of Participation) methodology, and elements of the PA (Participatory Appraisal) approach as well.  The training drew on ICA:UK’s ToP Group Facilitation Methods course, and also the PA4Change course developed by ICA:UK Associates Marilyn & Chris Doyle and Michelle Virgo (Zebra Collective).

Participants were trained to use the ToP Focused Conversation and Consensus Workshop methods to consult with their stakeholders on “their vision for Wigan LINK – how they would like it to be”, within the framework of the PA4Change principles and approach to participatory research.  Each participant was provided with an ICA:UK sticky wall, so that they were fully equipped and ready to use the methods they had learned.

Outputs & feedback

The ToP Consensus Workshop method was used again in the closing event to weave together the product of each of the stakeholder workshops.  A total of 227 stakeholders had been consulted through 10 parallel consultations, and a total of 63 vision titles were woven together into a clear and simple nine key vision elements.

The skills, knowledge, attitudes and approaches identified by the group to enable this vision to be delivered were used by the Council, with the involvement of stakeholders, to tailor the terms of reference for the host organisation and to assess the tenders received.

After starting the process in October feeling that Wigan had been slow to start preparing for the new LINK and might have trouble catching up, by the end participants were saying that they felt Wigan was very well placed to get the kind of LINK it needed, and in good time to appoint the host by April.

Each of the events was well received.  Participants highlights included:

  • “Having gained the knowledge and the confidence to get the message out there and gain feedback”
  • “Having the opportunity to be involved in something new and to learn through participation”
  • “The day has more that met my expectations”

Adrian Hardy, Assistant Chief Executive of Wigan Council and the client for the contract, wrote:

“ICA:UK took a concept that was ill-defined by the client, and translated it into a series of questions and exercises which enabled a group of community volunteers and public sector employees to enter into a constructive dialogue about the preferred characteristics for the future LINK organisation. Of equal value was their training in the use of the Consensus Workshop and Focused Conversation methods, which, albeit brief, gave confidence and enthusiasm to the participants for them to roll it out with their own organisations as they themselves sought a cross-section of views on how the LINK should operate.

I am happy to recommend ICA:UK – not only for this piece of work, but also for other consultation exercises they have done with the Council, which have been equally productive”.