Co-creating the future by facilitating

Co-create. More often, more and more organizations look internally to find solutions to improve and innovate. This leads increasingly to look less demiurges consultants or professors and more toward facilitators. The challenge is now for companies to know how to take into account the co-created results bringing them within their daily actions.

It was the late 60s of last century when in Europe a lot of corporations discovered the management consulting, also thanks to the books of Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber. The big American auditing companies (the famous big five) widened their range of action to management consulting. Consulting became one of the top word (and career) of the future. There was no manager who does not entrust them with any major decision or corporate reorganization.

Towards the end of the century the development (and myth) of globalization, the exploit of information and communication technologies and in particular the rise of financialization of the world economy made most business to face complex challenges for surviving on the market. These are the years of European Union white papers. The years of the monetary union agenda; the years of information and knowledge society. During those years a lot of emphasis were given to developing longlife and widelife learning policies.

In the late ’80s and early years of the new century there were a development of new organizational models, form those related to the productivity development in Japan (Kaizen) or those more radical (agile and scrum variants). On the rise were the coach, the key professional for the development and improvement of human and professional skills of the managers. In this climate the traditional consulting approach stared to phase out showing its limits. Limits in dealing with growing complexity where the standard plan-do approach wouldn’t work. Limits related to consultancy as justification of prepackaged decisions or to deal with a short term approach coming from the financial based decisions.

In the same years a large company like LEGO were facing major challenges. From one hand the production process were “commonplace” (and thus easily replicable at costs dramatically lower by the “Asian tigers”) and the patent was expired. One the other end giants like Microsoft and Sony (manufacturers of Xbox and PlayStation electronic game platforms) entered into the toy market (the market transformed from “toys” to “play time”). In this situation LEGO asks a consulting firm to provide a solution for growth. The outcomes were considered dissatisfied. From then, two professors from IMD business school in Lausanne, Johan Roos and Bart Victor and Robert Rasmussen, director of product development for the educational market at LEGO, they started immediately to systematically investigate the feasibility of using LEGO bricks for strategy development. Once the group realized that these strategy concepts truly could be more than just theory, the work moved into developing the process itself and to make the results reproducible and the methodology robust. This internal solution lead in 2007 into the creation of LEGO® Serious Play®, the methodology that allows you to easily co-create results from people of an organization.

In the same year in California it will begin to consolidate a methodology for solving problems, to co-create results, which will find its legitimacy in the success of the new century flagship products: the Apple devices. Design thinking is that because of IDEO and Stanford University D2school. Design thinking becomes a widespread method in all sectors and organizational areas. Still straddling the end of the last century in another prestigious American universities, on the other coast, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) takes shape an organizational approach that putting together systems theory and organizational psychology will help change the way in which they develop approaches on people in organizations. It is the journey to the learning organization by businesses and all the coaching methodologies that come from them, which are also designed to co-create results by those who live the organization.

Agile and Scrum, LEGO® Serious Play®, Design thinking (or rather human centered design), U-journey and U-theory are just some of the techniques of modern facilitation, designed to co-create results. Results which are necessary especially after the big financial crisis of 2009. Techniques which fit into a plan-do-plan-do approach, which is needed to face a complex and fast changing business environment.

But what are the differences between a consulting and facilitation approaches? In general terms:

  • Consulting — when an organization has a problem and an expert provides the solution. It is the concept of the demiurge. The case that comes closest is that of the medical doctor.
  • Training — when an organization has a problem and the expertise used to solve it needs to be conveyed in the company internally.
  • Coaching — when knowledge needs to be learned from experience for the manager to solve the problem.
  • Facilitation — when a company has a problem and those who have to solve it should be the people who are working inside. So the organization need help to make solutions emerge and to co-create results.
The greater effectiveness of facilitation techniques is linked on a stronger commitment by the people in the organization who co-created internally the solution (versus a “suggested” solution from the outside by an expert). The other reason why facilitation is more effective is in the predominant value of experience of those who internally lives daily problem and has a constant focus on solutions (versus a more abstract competence, more theoretical or linked to areas “similar” but not specific).

The challenge, therefore, is for the organizations to mobilize the individuals for co-creating solutions. A challenge which consists in being able to implement these solutions which are no longer defined top down or only from the management.

[this articles originally appeared in Fabrizio Faraco’s blog]