Facilitating Leadership

From Command and Control to Facilitation in Urban Planning and Development Processes

Why do we need to become facilitators and how do we do it?

As individuals we simply cannot keep up with the exponential pace of change that is engulfing all aspects of our lives. Top down hierarchical systems are not built for, nor do they lend themselves to dealing effectively with fast changing environments. Urban planning and development processes are very much part of the top-down way of thinking.

There is growing acceptance that our urban planning and development processes are in need of a change of philosophy and processes. This ‘new’ philosophy will only come about if we as individuals change our behaviour and simultaneously start to believe that bottom-up movements are an equal part in the eco-system of planning processes.

Proving a philosophy is showing that it works in practice. When we practice we learn and adapt. And it is in the learning and adapting where we can enter into a dialogue for how we will all collaborate now and in the future.

The Cultural Challenge

In his book ‘The 5th Discipline’, Peter Senge talks about how often in teams we spend our time in a battle of perspectives and how decisions made are often as a result of a watered down compromise or that one person manages to ‘foist’ their opinion on all the others. The traditional urban development processes largely reflect this ‘command and control’ way of getting things done.This way of thinking and the subsequent processes must be significantly adapted or else replaced if we are to remodel the way in which we build our urban environment.

Senge then goes on to suggest that most managers find ‘collective inquiry’ threatening and that because of this, decision making processes are not harvesting the best possible strategies. So there is a clear need for more involved processes if we are to progress, and not least a fundamental change of behaviour.

From command and control to facilitation is not just an ideology, it is something to do and be done. We have to be open to changing how we lead and participate in building a culture of peer-to-peer feedback that everyone can learn from.

I speak from experience. I spent 14 years working as a project manager in the property and construction industry. I witnessed and was part of many decisions that I felt were compromises to some degree or another. Either way, teams were wasting hours in prolonged conflict and still we would end up with a decision that I felt did not extract the best possible solution.

7 years ago I changed careers. I went from being a project manager to facilitating interpersonal communication workshops using forum theatre. Little did I know at the time just how valuable the experience of learning and practicing as an actor / facilitator would become. Intellectually understanding that we need to be more of a ‘facilitator’ is one thing. It is another to practice this new behaviour. And to do this we need a trusted team of people around us, where you can exchange honest and open feedback.

Trends in Urban Development

Trends and evidence shows that more and more people are taking an active interest in how their urban environment is being shaped. I went to an informal Facebook event in Oslo titled «What’s going on in my city?» 1100 people were invited, 1600 turned up. There was a real buzz at the event and you could sense the burgeoning need for more participatory processes in Oslo. Typing ‘trends in community involvement’ in my search engine offered me a range of articles and documents that further support this growing trend.

So how are we going to deal with this increase of interest and scrutiny in our planning and development processes? Do we really think that the ‘command and control’ system with its current policies and regulations are designed for this onslaught of questioning and engagement?

What we have here is in effect a partially blocked drain that is progressively becoming more blocked. Unless we distribute the single point of drainage to other areas, the drain will eventually block completely. I’ll leave the rest of the metaphor to your own imagination. It is similar to the challenge we face with the planning process. Unless we employ ways of distributing power throughout the process of planning, we will end up with a log jam of applications and conflicts. In addition we’ll have an exponentially growing proportion of our citizenship feeling marginalised and alienated because their dreams, ideas and needs will not be represented or met. This presents images of an undesirable future for our lives in our cities.

A New Form for Leadership

We are no longer the objects of design. We are the subjects of design. So what are we going to do about this from a personal and a professional perspective when it comes to leadership.

Umar Haque in his article ‘The End of Leadership’ stated that true leaders lead people to an impossible destination. And that they lead us towards our better selves. These new breed of leaders understand that the conditions required to produce solutions for impossible problems must have a significant focus on the element of the human relationship. It is in our relationships with one another where we have the scope to lead and support each other, through collective inquiry.

One of the biggest challenges with the incoming wave of active interest in urban development is harvesting representative input and streamlining decision making processes. New skills are required from all types of leaders at all levels within the process of urban development. These skills could be described as components for the art of facilitation. When one is beginning to master the art of facilitation one is forced to listen more. There is no other option but to find new ways and processes to gather and filter the information. You will have to mediate dialogues, run workshops, lead thorough decision making processes. To truly own a neutral standing as a facilitator you have to show your ability to understand all perspectives whilst having an eye on the greater good for the collective. You have to be sure of a destination, but open to where its exact location might be. You have to be in control of losing control.

There is no magic wand for this transformation. We all have to collectively look at how we interact with one another and question whether we are getting the best out of our relationships. By practicing an open mindset and changing the nature of our language from one of a battle of perspectives to a more questioning and supportive nature, we will change the way we organise ourselves and collaborate together.

Taking Care

In a world where we are connecting more and more through technology, we then seem to want to recreate these virtual meeting places into a physical space and a real experience. Urban development offers humanity one of the greatest gifts for our evolution that we can ever imagine. By collaborating within a new framework that embodies the principles of facilitator led leadership, we have the opportunity to positively shape our space, our lives, future generations and the planet. We need to take care of ourselves and our cities, before our cities take care of us.

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