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Defining Issues in Conflict

I’ve recently been facilitating some passionate group discussions with employees in Fort McMurray.  Working with larger groups of 40-60 people is a challenge when it comes to defining issues.

The process starts with first building understanding about why we are all here.  We take time at the beginning to clarify the facilitators role, the groups role, confidentiality, discussion guidelines, timing, what the day will look like, and other concerns the participants may have.  What is their desired outcome?

Participants are then encouraged to move forward by discussing concerns in small groups and prioritizing.  Sharing back with the large group enables the facilitator to capture concerns on the flip chart.  Once all major concerns are captured the group can prioritize and collect like concerns together under appropriate topics to develop an agenda.

This is where the facilitator can use their Mediation and Appreciative Inquiry skills to hone in on what is important to the participants and frame the issues appropriately.  When I hear statements like “My supervisor never lets me leave for a doctor’s appointment, but my colleague is always leaving early” we explore whether this relates to fairness, process or leadership.  Focusing on value-based topics assists to move the conversation away from pointing fingers to examining the real problem.

Allowing participants to determine the issues creates accountability and buy-in for the process.  While framing the issues the participants come to understand that they are the decision makers and are responsible for finding solutions that will work for the group.  I often find that groups want someone to come in and ‘fix the problem’, whether it be the facilitator or a manager.  The realization that they have the authority and ability to change their situation creates a shift in energy and behaviour to move the discussion forward.

Once we have set the agenda we can return to our small group work and explore the issues in a deeper way.  Taking this time now to examine concerns before we focus on solutions will allow for a shift in thinking and produce creative solutions quickly later on.  Again participants will share back their discussions with the larger group which allows the facilitator to capture details on the flip chart while reframing and posing deeper questions for clarification and understanding.

The last piece is creating a plan to resolve the issues discussed.  The facilitator directs this back to the participants for some brainstorming in smaller groups. Sharing back will stimulate the larger group to build on existing ideas and become more innovative with their thinking.  The facilitator questions the participants to ensure the plan in place is feasible and detailed enough to achieve the results they desire.

If you are interested in learning more about how this process can work for your group or have questions feel free to connect at


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