The Art of 'Resolving' (Landing the Session Safely)

Golden Gate Fly By - MS Flight Simulator 4.0 Mac OS 9 (CC License by Nicholas Volodimer)

As a young business consultant (known as a 'green bean' at Andersen Consulting at that time), Neil Perry, one of my early mentors, introduced a few of us to Microsoft Flight Simulator.  It was not quite as fun as I expected, having only played computer games designed to provide instant gratification.  My experience was that it is a lot easier to get a plane off the ground without incident than it is to land. This can happen to facilitators too.

It can be exciting turning over lots of rocks and seeing what scuttles out, but what do you do next?  You need to be able to resolve the session.  'Resolving' can take many forms, more than can be covered in detail here.

Common practices finishing a session include:

  • Agreeing to 'a position' that will influence future actions.
  • Dividing up jobs using an action plan.
  • Agreeing to disagree on some details, while agreeing to the way forward on others.
  • Agreeing to meet again at some future time to keep working. 

Not all of these are going to result in people's outstanding concerns being resolved.

As there are so many alternative end points, it is good to start the session by saying what you will or hope to achieve.  You should also be vigilant for additional potential outcomes, and aware of the risk that the agreed outcome may not be achieved.

Things don't just go awry as you are landing.  They can also go out of kilter in-flight.  What seems like a useful diversion from the original topic may result in wasted time or even limit your ability to achieve your agreed outcome.  This may be because too much time has been lost; or people's attention may have become indivertibly distracted from the main agenda.  In these cases, consider some time out to break people's focus off, and give you a chance to figure out what to do next.  You may find yourself re-visiting the agreed outcome, and maybe settling for something less or different to that originally agreed.

Back to the flying metaphor, we also need to remember that no-one on this plane lives at the airport. They all need to go somewhere else after this flight, and if the flight is too traumatic, they may not get there.  Try to regulate people's trauma level.  If they seem phased by their experience of the session, talk to them afterwards, and listen to any concerns they have.  You wont always be responsible for resolving them, but you should still be respectful of them.

As they say in the airline industry, whatever situation you find yourself in, DON'T PANIC.