Give Voice through Proactive Facilitation

This week I attended the annual meeting of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches and I wondered what religion could teach me about collaboration. I realized that religion teaches us to give voice to those with dire needs who don’t have a voice in order to experience fulfillment. Similarly, collaboration teaches us to give voice to those we don’t normally give voice to in order to solve our toughest and most important problems. Both religion and collaboration teach us about the power of authentic human connection; that all things are possible when people come together to serve an important purpose.

Let’s start with religion. I believe that religion is a tool to achieve inner well-being. Matthieu Ricard, a biochemist turned Buddhist monk, talks about the practice of mind training to achieve inner well-being in his TED talk called ( called ‘Habits of Happiness.’ Matthieu explains that certain states of mind are conducive to inner well-being. Tibetan monks use meditation to train their minds to achieve a state of unconditional compassion. Matthieu uses neuroscience to show that this mind-training is successful at increasing inner well-being far above the average. Similarly, Rick Warren concludes in his TED talk ( called ‘A Life of Purpose’ that a person needs a ‘significance level of living’ in order to achieve fulfillment. Rick distinguishes the significance level of living from both survival and success levels of living. Rick goes on to say that applying our gifts of identity, income, and influence to those who are lacking in these gifts but need them is the path to fulfillment or inner well-being.

Collaboration to address a tough challenge requires bringing different perspectives together beyond those who have been trying to address the challenge. While religion gives a voice to those who have dire need, collaboration provides a voice to those who otherwise would not have a voice in addressing the challenge. Beyond giving voice, there are are at least three other parallels between religion and collaboration.

The first parallel is that religion involves a set of beliefs containing a moral code to govern human behavior while collaboration relies on ground rules and a facilitation process to guide human behavior in an engagement. The moral code governing human behavior in religion is designed to help make the world a better and kinder place. The ground rules and facilitation process guiding human behavior in a collaborative engagement are designed to make it easy for a group of people with diverse perspectives to converge on a set of desired outcomes. The desired outcomes are crafted to lead to post-engagement action that will deliver value to the sponsoring organization. Therefore, the process of giving voice in each religion and collaboration can be viewed as a form of proactive facilitation designed to deliver benefits.

The second parallel is that worship for a given religion is led by a clergy person while collaboration in a meeting is led by a facilitator. Furthermore, the benefits produced by the corresponding church or meeting directly correlate to the skill of the leader. In the case of a clergy person, mission work and continuing education through the church’s association or other religious affiliation help develop and grow the skill and experience of the clergy person. In the case of a facilitator, training and certification programs are available to develop and demonstrate facilitation skills. In fact, the International Association of Facilitators has published the competencies for a facilitator which form the basis of their certification program. In both the case of a given church or organizational meeting, if the leader is qualified and talented then this leads to meaningful contribution to society or the organization as the case may be.

The third parallel is that in religion, your relationship with others is informed by your relationship with a God or Goddess, gods or goddesses, ancestors, or spirits of nature. In turn, your relationship with a God or Goddess, gods or goddesses, ancestors, or spirits of nature is informed by both your beliefs and the teachings of your clergy person. In a collaboration, your relationships with others is informed by both your beliefs and the process and techniques used by the facilitator. The clergy person for a church and the facilitator for a meeting can greatly enhance or detract from the experience of connecting with others. As many have experienced, when the connection with others is powerful then great things can be accomplished as a result. Unfortunately, when the connection with others is poor, the ability to accomplish things can be greatly hindered.

Religion helps people find the meaning and purpose of their life while collaboration guides the action that needs to be taken for greatest value to the organization in a particular situation. Just as the experience of religion can be greatly enhanced by a talented church leader or clergy person, the experience of a collaboration can be greatly enhanced by a skilled facilitator. It is the proactive giving of voice that leads to lasting impact in both cases. Contact Valerie at 412-742-9675 or to learn how to improve your organization’s collaboration performance.