Rising to the Challenge

Fulcrum Associates - Leadership Training and Development, Team BuildingRecently I was leading a one day training workshop called “Interacting With Impact.” At about 11:00 AM, in the middle of debriefing of a small group activity, someone made the comment, “You know, when I started working here, I was struck by how seldom people interact with one another. Sometimes coming in in the morning it’s like walking into a funeral parlor.”

Well, that triggered a 45-minute intense conversation in the group. Some spoke up to support the individual while others did not agree. He had, in fact, touched a hot button for the group. With me lightly facilitating, they proceeded to have a great conversation where I think they broke through to a new level of trust. They ended, by lunchtime, in a good place as a team.

This spontaneous energy that emerged from within the group, however, did two things. First it preempted my agenda for the training. Secondly, it forced me to switch my professional role–with zero warning, I might add–from trainer to facilitator.

Thinking about this afterwards, I recalled a couple of times when my nice, structured, well thought out training program was “hijacked” by a real time event:

  1. One day a participant was in the middle of presenting her table group’s input when she collapsed to the floor, unconscious. A 911 call brought the paramedics who took her away to the hospital. She died of an aneurysm later that same night.I had to pivot from training to gently leading a conversation for all of us to process what had just happened to their colleague. When everyone felt “done” with the conversation, we ended the session.
  2. In the morning session of a multi-day management development program I had a strained interaction with one of the executives who curtly dismissed a point I was making. At lunch, this same individual informed the CEO that he was quitting and then he stormed out of the building.There had been two factions operating in the team–his and the CEO’s–and there had been some history over the last couple of years. When we reconvened following lunch, it was obvious that there would be no more training taking place that day. So, I invited people to talk about what had happened and how they were feeling. At first, I was the recipient personally of a lot of invective from those who supported the executive. Some even accused me of being the cause for him resigning.In fact, I was simply a safer target than the CEO. After about 30 minutes, the two factions started to have the real conversation that needed to take place, and I was able to shift from punching bag to facilitator. While nothing was resolved that day–we rescheduled the rest of the program for a month later–individuals were able to clear the air and get some raw feelings off their chests.

From these incidents comes a piece of advice. Whenever you engage a trainer first satisfy yourself that, in the off chance it is required, he/she has both the capacity to pivot on a dime to facilitator and the sensitivity to recognize when the situation calls for it.

If a trainer you hire fails to respond at such a critical moment or handle the quick transition professionally, it will, at the very least, squander a golden opportunity for a “teachable moment” for the group. More seriously, it can damage the very cohesion of your participants.

Ian CookBest wishes,

Ian Cook



Terra Nova In the Spotlight this Month

FULCRUM’S CUSTOMIZED FACILITATION SERVICES. Do you have a team building retreat coming up? Are two individuals–or even departments–not working well together?Are you seeking to align your people’s efforts with the organization’s goals? Are you facing a challenge you like would input and ideas on from across the company? Does your top team need advice and guidance leading your organization through major change?Our carefully selected team of seasoned facilitators will support you in all these areas…and even more…from Business Process Improvement to Team Mapping to Partnering.

When it comes to facilitation, we at Fulcrum Associates go both wide and deep.

Click here to check out our extensive service offerings.


Ian Cook, MILR, CSP, is a presenter, facilitator and executive coach. He works with managers who want to increase their effectiveness as a leader and build a stronger team. To book Ian for a training seminar, team facilitation or keynote presentation, call toll-free at: 1-888-FULCRUM (385-2786) or e-mail: Ian Cook.