Facilitating like Caddying is More than Meets the Eye

This post is about me – facilitating me to get out of the office and onto the golf course with or without the aid of caddying. The sad truth is that it is currently the height of the golfing season in the Northeast and I have not been to the driving range, let alone the golf course, even once so far this year. I thought if I wrote about golf, then maybe I will be motivated or at least guilt-ed into making some time for golf which I really do enjoy.

I decided to learn more about golf caddying and do what my good friend Andrew Winston refers to as ‘deep research – so I Google’d it.’ What I learned is that there is much more to caddying than meets the eye which can also be said for facilitating. Most people are exposed to facilitating for the first time by attending a meeting or conference and being delighted with how productive a session was thanks to a professionally trained facilitator running the session. What they don’t see is all the preparation that goes into executing that facilitated session. Similarly, if you are a weekend golfer like me, then you may have been personally exposed to caddying at a high end golf course which doesn’t let you appreciate all that goes into being a caddy for a professional golfer.

I have drawn three similarities between caddying and facilitating. One similarity is that both rely heavily on the idea that paying attention to process leads to results. A second similarity is the importance of timing to performance. The third similarity is that the technical aspects of the profession are an insufficient but necessary condition for success.

The mere existence of a caddy demonstrates the importance of process to achieve results in golf. In an interview with Joe Skovron, caddy for Ricky Fowler in the Ryder’s Cup (http://www.zoneofexcellence.ca/Journal/Issue14/Caddying_is_timing.pdf), Joe emphasizes the importance of process. Ricky Fowler birdied the last fours holes of a round at the 2010 Ryder’s Cup including making a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole. In response to a question about what he did to keep his emotions in check at the Ryder Cup, Joe said ‘I kept thinking about the process and what we were trying to do out there.’ Part of the process that Joe spoke to is serving as a source of what I call ‘positive neutrality’ which Joe described as follows: ‘I think it’s very important for a caddy to not have too many highs and too many lows and stay positive as much as possible because it’s just like when you’re around positive people, eventually it’s going to seep through. If you’re around people that are negative eventually that’s going to seep through too.’

Process is a key component of a professional facilitator too. Of the six primary core competency areas for a professional facilitator, four have to do with process (http://www.iaf-world.org/index/certification/CompetenciesforCertification.aspx). The four core competency areas having to do with process include create collaborative client relationships, plan appropriate group processes, create and sustain a participatory environment, and guide the group to appropriate and useful outcomes. The remaining two core competency areas are about professional development (build and maintain professional knowledge and model positive professional attitude). In addition, there is a specific facilitator competency for ‘positive neutrality’ described as ‘trust group potential and model neutrality.’

The second similarity between a caddy and a facilitator is the importance of timing to performance. The skill of timing comes from the social awareness and relationship management aspects of emotional intelligence and is a skill that can be developed. Joe Skovron, caddy to Ricky Fowler in the 2010 Ryder’s Cup, described this skill in caddying as follows: ‘…so much of caddying is just timing. You might be saying the exact right thing but maybe it’s the wrong timing. Maybe you needed to be a hole earlier, maybe you needed to be a hole later, maybe you needed to be a day later, and maybe you need to be a week earlier.’ Analogously, in facilitation timing comes in when managing the group dynamics such as knowing when to resolve a conflict versus using a more passive technique like a parking lot. Timing is also important in facilitation for sequencing a session and for changing the sequencing of a session “on the fly” as needed in order to achieve the session outcomes.

The third and final similarity between caddying and facilitating is that the technical aspects of the profession are a necessary but insufficient condition for success. A research paper from Loughborough University in England and University of Queensland in Australia used interviewing of golfers and caddies to develop a model of a caddy’s role (http://www.athleticinsight.com/Vol6Iss1/GolfCaddieRole.htm). The model identifies three facets that apply to both caddies and facilitators. One of the three facets is the technical aspects of the profession while the other two which are equally important are the psychological and environmental aspects of the profession.

In caddying, the technical aspects are defined as the physical and tangible services provided by the caddy to he golfer. These services include fulfilling tasks the golfer would otherwise have had to do themselves so the golfer can focus on the task of playing the game. For example, carrying the golf bag, cleaning the golf balls, controlling distractions from the crowd, insuring the golf bag has everything it needs, and providing technical information needed to assess a given golf shot are technical aspects of the caddying profession. The psychological aspects of caddying are those services related to the confidence, commitment, and focus of the golfer relative to the game. For example, verbal and non-verbal communication that impact short-term confidence and the mental climate surrounding the game and each shot are pyshcological aspects of the caddying profession. Finally, the environmental aspects of caddying include the golf tradition of having a caddy, the perception that it is more professional to have a caddy, and, in some cases, tour rules requiring players to use caddies.

The profession of facilitation also has technical, psychological, and environmental aspects. The technical facets of facilitation are the session logistics, the session supplier, the agenda, the session outcomes, and the content used at the session in various forms. The psychological facets of facilitation include the process used to achieve the meeting outcomes, managing conflict in the session, and keeping participants in the frame of mind needed to achieve the session outcomes. Finally, an environmental facet of facilitation is that a session is viewed as more professional and important if a facilitator has been hired.

It is difficult to describe the role of a caddy because it varies depending on the needs and talent of the golfer. Furthermore, in golf only the golfer can answer the question of how important the role of the caddy is. Similarly, only the sponsor can answer the question of how important the role of a facilitator is so it is hard to get the word out about the value that the facilitation profession can bring to organizations. Just like the most successful golfers have highly talented caddies, the smartest project leaders rely on trained facilitators to collaborate across important stakeholders. Contact Valerie at 412-742-9675 or valerie.patrick@fulcrumconnection.com to learn how to improve your organization’s collaboration performance.