Part 3: Facilitating for Transformation in Our Times: Sustaining Transformations

 (see part 1 here and part 2, here)

 “The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener.” Bill O’Brien


This post is the final in the 3-part series on Facilitating for Transformation in our times. This continues to be an exploration of self-transformation for facilitators, as the first step in responding to the question: how do I facilitate transformation in the current socio-political environment? It is the practitioner perspective on my Chapter (11) on Transformative Learning in the book Dialogic Organization Development: The Theory and Practice of Transformative Change, in which I write about preparing a client/group for transformation. Here, I continue to explore issues and questions that facilitators and practitioners must address to take themselves through this journey, before they facilitate others to do so.

What happens after you have recognized a disorienting dilemma you have, worked through your interior emotional state in regard to the dilemma and critically assessed the underlying assumptions that triggered the process (Table below: Stage 1). What happens after you have realized you are not alone in your dilemma, explored supportive roles and relationships, weighed your options and planned your next steps (Table below: Stage 2)? Oftentimes, this is where transformation journeys fall apart; the space between planning and action. Intention must translate into action before transformative learning can be fully realized, integrated and sustained.

Stages of TransformationInitiating the InquiryFacilitating the JourneySustaining Transformation
Mezirow’s 10 phases of transformation1. A disorientating dilemma

2. Self-examination with feelings of fear, anger, guilt, or shame

3. A critical assessment of assumptions

4. Recognition that one’s discontent and the processes of transformation are shared

5. Exploration of options for new roles, relationships and actions

6. Planning a course of action

7. Acquiring knowledge and skills for implementing one’s plans

8. Provisional trying of new roles

9. Building competence and self-confidence in new roles and relationships

10 A reintegration into one’s life on the basis of conditions dictated by one’s new perspective

I characterize the last 4 phases of Jack Mezirow’s 10 phases of transformation as the stage of sustaining transformations. This is the stage where you actively take steps to integrate and embed the transformative learning you’ve gained into your life by: acquiring knowledge and skills for implementing your plans, trial and error of different roles and actions, building your confidence and competence in the new ways you have chosen and integrating your transformed worldview into your life. This is all easier said than done, because transformation – that fundamental change in worldview and behaviours as a resulted of expanded perspectives – is hard work. And in the early days, transformed thinking requires consistent action for the change to be evident in who we are, in our relationships and in what we do. This of course is true of any behavioral change – it requires practice to become habit. There are many theories about what gets in the way and stops us from making behavioural changes, including the ideas of immunity to change because of underlying competing commitments, which I often work with to support leaders who are stuck. However, in my experience, when transformation has occurred, the ensuing behavioural changes come much easier. I believe that sustaining transformation is less about getting over the change challenges and much more about not giving up when you try and at first fail. I believe that sustaining transformation requires patience and perseverance in addition to the passion that transformation often evokes, before desired outcomes can be realized.

So what happens when you try a new role or action to go with a transformation you have experienced and it doesn’t work? For example, as a facilitator, your experience of the current world state has you explore questions about your own assumptions of the current polarized issues and conflicts. As a result of realizing a transformation, you decide to take on facilitating diversity dialogues and hosting social change discussion circles. In your first attempts, you feel incompetent in your new role. You say things that participants take issue with. One person gives you feedback about how an innocuous comment you made caused offense. Yes, you need to build your confidence and competence and keep learning and facilitating to gain that, but all that will only happen if you are willing to persevere through the discomfort of seeming failures. How do you persevere? You simply do. There is no formula. And in my research with some of the most extraordinary transformational leaders I have met, they agreed. A theme in the research interviews was that these leaders had the will, determination and grit to persevere in the dreams that their transformation experiences had evoked for them. They explained that when they are deeply connected to their dreams, and the underlying source of their transformation experiences, they are unstoppable.

So facilitators in Leadership, Organization Development and Social Change: how do you sustain the transformations you are realizing in these complex socio-political times? This thinking on transformative learning suggests we have to persevere through the bumps, the discomfort and the difficult conversations.We have to keep facilitating the complex dialogues our world is surfacing, until we become as skilled and masterful at hosting them as is possible…and then take on new challenges. Because I believe that in the current world state, it is better to try, fail, learn and try again – than not to try at all. Inaction is colluding. Trying, failing and learning – that’s leading.

Interested in learning more about facilitating transformative learning? Contact me here.