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Process facilitation.

This note should be read as an appendix to our analysis of the psychological factors involved in the Emergency Response Process, which draws attention to the role of the Process Facilitator in making sure that Emergency Response Teams function optimally under pressure.

The most obvious role of the Process Facilitator is to help to provide positive conditions for the team, and to minimise the unhelpful ones. This may be as unsubtle as making sure they are fed and comfortable; it may also be more complex.

The Process Facilitator can help to ensure that issues are properly discussed and assumptions properly questioned. (s)he should ensure that important events are properly logged, and summarised in meetings. It is dangerous to assume that 'everyone knows' about something, even though it has not been explicitly stated. People may not be aware of a fact, or they may be aware of the fact but not realise its significance.

When meetings take place, the Facilitator should try to ensure that everyone is there who needs to be. (s)he should try to avoid the Process being 'short-circuited', with critical decisions being taken in back rooms by ad hoc groups of people. (s)he should be alert to any unreasonable attempt to suppress dissenting voices. (s)he should also make sure that critical decisions are documented and their rationale recorded at the time. As an essential part of this Process, (s)he should identify which decisions are critical, and make sure that the team is aware that they are.

The Process Facilitator needs to be aware of the five modes by which individuals cope with stress. If Response Team members appear to be edging towards one of the first four, then you have a key role in trying to nudge them back towards the fifth, sensible, mode.

Process Facilitators cannot alter the characteristics of our leaders. However, they can:

  1. Be aware the most common psychological pitfalls, and support the individual team members
  2. Be aware of the problems which can afflict groups under stress, and support the group
  3. Help to manage the dynamics of the Response Team.

The Response Plan is a process for achieving these objectives. The Process Facilitator's job is to keep the Process running smoothly. This calls for tact as well as judgement. It is not his/her job to question or criticise decisions made by the Response Team. However, if (s)he believes that they are making the wrong decisions, (s)he will often realise that this is because they are not applying the Process properly.

(s)he should try to bring them tactfully back to the process. Golden rules for this are:

  1. Make sure that (s)he personally treats the Response Plan seriously, and the underlying Process. If (s)he doesn't, no-one else will! Keep the Response Plan visible, and refer to it often, and respectfully. Stress how it can be helpful, and the resources it offers.
  2. Allow essential deviations from it, but make sure people know that they are deviating, and why.
  3. Help to ensure that the right information reaches the Response Team: make sure they are talking to the right people.
  4. If the Response Team is adopting a course of action and appears to be ignoring possible risks, (s)he can ensure that these risks are on the agenda - eg by suggesting that a team is commissioned to examine them.
  5. (s)he can encourage the team to declare and write down their objectives, and to make these realistic.
  6. (s)he can take every opportunity to remind the team of these goals (Write them up on a white board, refer to them in meetings, etc.)
  7. Urge the team to do a 'worst case analysis'. (If necessary, doing it himself, and apologising later.)

To summarise, the Process Facilitator's role is to generate and maintain the conditions for good, 'hardy', decision-making. If individuals or the group are not coping properly, he should be aware what is happening, and take steps to reinforce the Process itself. (s)he should not criticise decisions themselves: this is not his/her role. But there will almost always be a means of using the Process to help the Response Team: the Process Facilitator's role can almost always be achieved by bringing people back to the Process.

When the Response Team is thinking strategically and making rational decisions, the Process Facilitator is doing his/her job properly and the Response Plan is working.

Please note:

This report is copyright. It has been prepared by Stirling Reid Limited for the information of our clients. It represents work and effort on our part and should not be distributed without our agreement. This copyright notice must be included at all times.

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