Spark of Inspiration: Clarifying challenges

Spring is finally here in Finland. The sea ice has melted, and the near-constant darkness of winter has been replaced with long and sunny evenings. I hope that spring has reached you by now, too. While the difficulties of winter have left us, there are still challenges we must face; both prfessionally and personally. In fact, a main application of facilitation is fixing problems and finding solutions to challeneges. But it’s nearly impossible to effectively find a solution to a challenge if the challenge itself is not clear to everyone. As facilitators, we need to make things as easy as possible for the groups we lead by clarifying challenges. Thankfully, there are many ways you can do this! In this month’s spark of inspiration I will share some tips you can begin using right away to help clarify challenges. First, I’ll show how you a great icebreaker created by a tool guru you can use to align people at the beginning of your meetings. Then, I will discuss why it is crucial to talk about successes, not just challenges or problems.

Most of you probably are in the habit of starting the meetings you lead with an icebreaker activity. It’s no secret that using icebreakers is a great way to relax meeting participants and get them ready to contribute and work with others. You can take things even further by using an icebreaker that relates to the overall goal of the meeting. So, if your main goal is to clarify a challenge, how about you use an icebreaker that prepares people to do that? I think that an activity called Hello is just the tool for the job. Hello is a tool created by Sivasailam Thiagarajan, who has created dozens, if not hundreds, of warm-up tools and games that make meetings and work more fun and playful. During the Hello activity, people are divided into small groups, and then they interview each other about a list of topics that vary from fun to serious. As the meeting leader, you can mix in some topics relating to the challenge you hope to clarify. As participants discuss this informally during the icebreaker, it sets the stage for the more serious work to come later on In the workshop.

A group of sample questions used during Hello. Note how they are a mix of serious questions and fun ones.

If you are interested in giving Hello a try, the complete instructions can be found online or in my book, Handbook of Facilitative Leadership: Theory, Tools, and Design.

When we help people clarify challenges, it could make sense that we would want to spend as much time as possible talking about these challenges. But this is not correct. Instead, the group tool Force Field Analysis suggests that we also want to discuss the positive aspects of a situation. Why though? If we only really care about the challenges, why even bother discussing the successes at all?

Let me give you several reasons:

  1. We want to gain a whole picture and understanding of what works and what does not work
  2. Listing only the negatives could make a challenge seem impossible
  3. We want to highlight the successes, so they carry forward and can be built upon

The creator of force Field Analysis, brilliant psychologist Kurt Lewin, suggests that listing the pros and cons is fundamental to the decision-making process.

Kurt Lewin believed in the power of discussing the positives and not just the challenges or cons.

If we follow Lewin’s lead, you need to discuss the positives of a situation, too, even if you are focusing on clarifying a challenge. Focusing on what’s working may inspire your group to see a challenge in a new way.
Clarifying challenges is often no easy task, but it is required if you want to find solutions and work effectively with others. Everyone needs to be on the same page before working together to solve problems. As seen in this month’s spark of inspiration, you can clarify challenges for your groups by using warm-up tools that get folks talking about serious topics in a relaxed way. It’s also best to not focus solely on challenges but revist examples of success that your team has shared.

To read more about Force Field Analysis, warm-up tools, and how to be the best group leader possible, you can check out my book, Handbook of Facilitative Leadership: Theory, Tools, and Design, available on

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About the trainer:

Pepe Nummi is a trailblazer of facilitation and an author in Finland. He is the first certified professional facilitator in the country and one of the founders of Grape People – Finland’s first company focusing on facilitation. Over the course of his long career, he has trained over 15,000 people in more than 20 different countries. 

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