Interview with Dr Robin Bryden – Part 4/6: The facilitator’s role

In this week’s instalment of the EI’s interview with Robin Bryden, Robin explains how the key to successfully implementing the Hearts and Minds toolkit rests with effective facilitators.

“What the Hearts and Minds tools do is give you a structure to identify the problem or better understand the situation, and they provide a structure for people to provide some answers.  All of the Hearts and Minds tools do that in a different way, but targeted to specific activities.  However, for most of the tools you don’t need to directly use the booklet.  Of course the facilitator needs to know the booklet inside out, but when you start doing your activities (workshops, etc.) you mostly just need a pen and something to write on.

Take Managing rule-breaking, for example, where you have the scratch-card questionnaires that you can give people.  The scratch cards are designed to allow people to give feedback anonymously to a supervisor about their following of rules and procedures, however, a facilitator can actually do it slightly differently – they can just ask people the questions.  It really depends on how open you are as an organisation and culture.  If people feel the need to answer in secret, then the anonymity of the questionnaires help, but if people are happy to speak up, then you just need the facilitator to ask the group the questions and probe for answers.

Understanding your culture is another tool where the facilitator has a large role to play in probing for answers.  Generally, people are often fairly optimistic when they do the Understanding your culture exercise – the initial rating is often way too high.  But then in the workshop, when questioned, they start to realise that they’re not as good as they thought they were, and that’s the start of the light bulb going on.  Initially they generally rate themselves as way too strong in culture, and it is often only when you engage the participants and challenge them on their answers that you get a more accurate indicator of their safety culture level.

For example, during an Understanding your culture exercise, a conversation I often have happens when leaders assess themselves as reactive.  I’ll ask: “so what are you going to do to get out of being reactive?” and they’ll tell me a reactive action, such as “I’m going to get out there and catch people working unsafely”. 

“So you think that’s going to move you up to generative do you?”

“Um, no”

“So where will that move you to?”

“That would move me to… reactive!”  

You can see their face change as they see they’re actually a couple of levels down from where they thought they were and where they thought they’d be with the remedying actions they had proposed. 

I’ve used this tool both quantitatively (with everybody completing questionnaires and counting up their scores) and qualitatively (everyone discussing openly in a workshop), and I came to the same answer for which cultural level the company was at and where the problems are for both methods.  In some ways, because I was able to facilitate the discussion, I think I might have got a better answer when I used it qualitatively.  You can’t always take the first answers people give to the Understanding your culture questions – what usually happens is someone gives the ‘politically correct’ answer (i.e. what they think I want to hear), and then someone (either myself, or someone else in the room) will challenge them on that and then they’ll change their minds, and as the conversation evolves you’ll get more and more answers – truer answers, bought out by the facilitator.”

To read part 3 of this interview, click here.

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