Facilitation is like flying passengers through fog

When I work with groups, I am always struck by the faith they place in me to get them where they need to go.  They put themselves in my hands for an hour, a day or sometimes several days.  Often they are required to work through complex exercises to address business challenges with ambiguous or limited information.  I have wondered what that must feel like?  How are they able to remain confident that we will get to our destination regardless of the difficulties we may face or the detours we may need to take?

On a recent float plan journey from Seattle to Victoria it dawned on me that facilitating groups is like piloting passengers on a journey through fog; the unknown is more present than the known and passengers must believe in the skill of the pilot to get them where they need to go.  Facilitation like navigating through fog

Flying Kenmore Air to, or from, Seattle is a quick and hassle free way to get away for a weekend without the fuss of ferries, lengthy border crossings and a bumpy 3 hour drive down I-5. 

The day of my return flight from Seattle appeared to be clear yet the planes from Victoria were delayed.  The weather in the Pacific Northwest can be changeable.  The pilots spoke with the ground crew in hushed whispers – snippets of “heavy fog in Puget Sound” filtered out to the waiting lounge.  Eventually, a pilot ushered our group of 12 passengers toward the waiting Twin Otter.  “Well folks, the ceiling has been going up and down all day,” he stated.  “I think we can make it through.  25 years of experience says it should be fine.  We’ll give it a go and hope that it’s not a waste of gas.”  I think we can make it.  Should be fine.  Hope.

Not inspiring but with these words he asked us to put our faith in him – to give control over our destiny to a complete stranger for the next 45 minutes….We’re in the plane…One assumes he knows what he’s doing….I’m sure it will work out…The woman across the aisle from me spilled her coffee.

It was bumpy as we climbed out of Seattle.  The sky was reasonably clear and we had stunning views of the Hood Canel and the ferries making their way across the Sound.  But, as we moved toward the San Juan Islands the ceiling began to drop until the grey green water was about 25 feet below the floats and the wall of fog ahead seemed too dense to get through.  Surely we wouldn’t make it. 

About mid way through the flight we veered sharply to the right avoiding the airspace above an Idaho class submarine.  This abrupt change in direction was followed by a calm series of course corrections seeking a new way through the fog.  From that point, the pilot took an unplanned route, weaving the plane through the Islands.  This unexpected detour, so low to the ground, provided a completely new way of experiencing a journey I have made many times. 

Gradually, as it appeared that we would make it, my fellow passengers and I began to relax.  We looked out the window and smiled at what we saw.  As we rounded the tip of San Juan Island, all at once the clouds lifted and the sky cleared.  The landing in Victoria harbour was smooth – not a bump.  As he opened the door, the pilot smiled as he said,

“Intuition is a great form of intelligence when we listen to it.”

To the many groups I have facilitated over the past eight years, thanks for your faith in my ability to guide you safely through the fog to your destination.

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