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3 minutes reading time (509 words)

Low-level Inferences: The Facilitator (8 out of 11)

"If we use the Integrated PM approach to team facilitation, then we will improve communication and project performance, but we have to reduce high-level reactive speaking and pay more attention to low-level thinking."

As an Integrated PM facilitator, you are constantly trying to make sense of what is happening in a project team. You watch members say and do things and then you make inferences about what their behavior means and how it is either helping or hindering the project's process. An inference is a conclusion you reach about something that is unknown to you, on the basis of what you have observed. For example, if in a meeting you see someone silently folding his arms across his chest, you may infer that he disagrees with what has been said but is not saying so.

The kinds of inferences you make are critical because they guide what you say when you intervene and affect how team members react to you. To be effective, you need to make inferences in a way that increases the chance of being accurate, that enables you to share your inferences with the team to see if they disagree, and that does not create defensive reactions in team members when you share your inferences.

The Integrated PM approach accomplishes this by focusing on what I refer to as "low-level" inferences. Essentially, this means that facilitators diagnose and intervene in project teams by making the fewest and smallest inferential leaps necessary. Consider two facilitators with different approaches, working with the same project team simultaneously and hearing this conversation:

TOM: I want to discuss the start time for the new project. Next week is too soon. We need to wait another month.

SUE: That's not going to work. We need to do it right away. We can't wait.

DON: I think you're both unrealistic. We will be lucky if we can start it in ninety days. I think we should wait until the next fiscal year.

An Integrated PM facilitator making a low-level inference might privately conclude, and then publicly point out, that members have stated their opinions but not explained the reasons for them, nor have they asked other members what leads them to see the situation differently. Observing the same behavior, a facilitator making a high-level inference might privately conclude that the members don't care about others' opinions or are trying to hide something. Making high-level inferences such as this creates a problem when we try to say what we privately think. High-level inferences are further removed from the data that we used to generate them and so may not be accurate. If the inference also contains a negative evaluation of others' motives, sharing the inference can contribute to the project team members' responding defensively. By learning to think and intervene using low-level inferences, we can increase the accuracy of our diagnosis, improve our ability to share our thinking with others, and reduce the chance of creating defensive reactions when we do so. This ensures that our actions increase rather than decrease the group's effectiveness.

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Tuesday, 17 July 2018
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