Friday, November 21, 2008 by Dave Blum

I first saw the technique used in 2004, at a Dr. Clue hunt in Sacramento, CA.  The facilitator was Christine McHugh, a Dr. Clue veteran. At the time, the group was vehemently discussing the treasure hunt clues after the first stage of their program, evidently upset with each others’ behaviour and lack of communication. Sensing that something was “up” for the group, Christine interrupted the conversation with the question, “What’s going on here?”

What a powerful facilitation tool this is, and so under-utilized during team building activities!   The phrase, “What’s going on here?” essentially freezes the action, much like in that old schoolyard game, freeze tag.   No matter the content being discussed, the facilitator shifts the attention away from the conversation specifics and shines a light on the personal dynamics in play. Another way of looking at it is that the participants are taken onto a platform, where they can look down on the emotions and feelings being expressed, from a more detached, aerial viewpoint.
Playing the “What’s-going-on-here?” card during team building exercises takes a bit of practice and yes, bravery.  I’ll be the first to admit that during my own corporate team building activities, I’m sometimes inclined to stay out of the fray, letting the conflict continue longer than it should, with the rationale “Oh, I’m just setting up a meaty final debrief.”  But really, the truth is that I’m often just afraid of stepping into the emotional mine field.  By staying out of the action, however, we facilitators miss a crucial “teachable moment” about feelings, values and expectations, while it’s all still fresh, still happening.

Improving teamwork is rarely about simply refining the group’s process at performing a task.  It’s almost always about human beings trying to have their needs met.  As facilitators, our job is to get people talking about what’s really going on here.