This blog was originally published on APMG.

Facilitators are key to any project, as they are trained in a range of tools and techniques and know where and when to best to use them!

Recently my daughter was trying to ‘bleed’ her radiators. Unfortunately, one of the radiators was close up to some new fittings and she couldn’t use the ‘key’. After some thought and searching through the toolbox she came across a wrench. With a little lateral thinking she was able to put something in the ‘keyhole’ and use the wrench to turn it. Hey presto out came the air! It was all about finding the right tool to tackle a difficult problem.

Facilitation, Development Sector, Humanitarian, Philantropy, PM4NGOs

One of the most powerful tools I have used is Kepner & Tregoe’s ‘Is and Is Not tool’. It’s a powerful tool for tackling ‘wicked issues’. K&T suggest asking “What/Where/When/How is it happening and Who is it happening to”. And asking, “Is it not happening’. The difference can illuminate a distinction that begins the process of unravelling the problem.

Like the wrench for my daughter it has proved to be the ‘right’ tool when others were not appropriate or didn’t work.

For instance, I used it in a factory when the different disciplines were arguing about the cause of the ‘swiss rolls’ coming off the production/packing lines with excess chocolate such that they wouldn’t fit in the box! Using ‘Is and Is Not’ (rather than something simpler but less capable of digging deep into the problem), we discovered that it was a combination of:

  1. When – when the temperature in the production facility rose above a certain level – not when it was cold(er)
  2. Where – certain ‘lines’ where the tension on the belts shook the chocolate, and made it ‘dribble’ down and off the rolls – but not all belts
  3. What – a particular ‘run’ for a brand – not other brands (with thicker chocolate)
  4. Who – no distinction – all shifts – not one particular shift
  5. How – chocolate formed ‘feet’ on the edge of the swiss roll on those affected – but not those unaffected

Groups tend to rely on a few (simple) familiar tools. Unfortunately, when there is a wicked issue or the problem is out of the group’s experience these familiar tools may not be good enough.

Facilitators are the key people in this situation – trained in a range of tools and techniques they know which ones to use in which situation and they can guide the group through the process of using something which has been alien to them.

The effect of this is to give the group:

a) greater clarification of the problem
b) confidence to step outside their comfort zone in the future

The maxim here: develop and awareness of a wide range of tools – you may not use your ‘wrench’ very often but when you do – it will stop you being cold!


Contributed by: Tony Mann
Chief Examiner for the Facilitation certification scheme by APMG International.
Director Resource Strategic Change Facilitators,

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