When major incidents occur or complex and long-lasting issues need to be solved, it is common practice in many organizations to bring together the people with the right knowledge and experience to solve the issue at hand. These meetings often occur under high pressure because systems are down, the effects of the problem are mounting, costs are growing and/or stakeholders are demanding resolution. How these issue-resolution teams work together can have a huge influence on the cost, emotional burden and reputation of the organization.

Our research and experience shows that with a clear process and strong leadership, problem solving, and decision making is faster and actions can be set in place to prevent a recurrence. This leadership can be most effectively executed by a  facilitator whose role is to provide focus on high-priority issues, lead the team through the many challenges of issue resolution and most important, to avoid the thinking biases that exist  in high stakes troubleshooting environments.


The main goal is to lead a group through a a process that resolves issues more effectively.. The facilitator come into play when , a group tried to handle the issue themselves and ran out of time or outside help is brought in from the start to safeguard a very important function or project.

The value a facilitator offers is to help the group understand common objectives and assist in achieving them without taking a particular position in the discussion. Staying neutral and guiding the group to consensus by using a structured process to keep the group on task, a facilitator makes it easier for the group to work together. Like an orchestra conductor, this person does not wield a magic wand, but directs the group to use their talents, insights and expertise to do their best thinking. This stimulates group creativity and encourages contributions.


Effective facilitators are champions in questioning and listening, even to what is not said. They also need to come prepared to manage the many challenges to issue resolution.

Challenge 1: Missing the obvious

Many times a group that is extremely familiar with their environment can miss even the most obvious changes that occur around them, sometimes with substantial consequences. Known as “inattentional blindness,” this phenomenon demonstrates that if you concentrate on an activity, you lose sight of what is happening around you. What if you look for the cause you think it should be? As facilitators are a bit distant from the processes and technologies at hand, they is able to bring a different and fresh perspective to the situation. Facilitators must encourage Subject Matter Experts, which are deeply involved in the technical ins and outs, to challenge their observations. If they look for the obvious error in the log files, are the not missing something else?

By repeatedly asking the questions and challenging the stated facts, the group establishes a fresh look at the situation and are becoming more productive.

Challenge 2: Failure to find root cause

Naturally, subject matter experts, faced with a vaguely familiar problem, respond along the lines of “oh, I have seen this before…it must be this….” Is it possible that the extensive knowledge and experience gained by experts is blocking their ability to solve the problem? Too often experts jump to conclusions without proving their thinking. Their activities tend to circle around their assumptions and conclusions, digging the hole of a favorite possible cause. In neuroscience this is known as pattern recognition and emotional tagging. When a workaround was successful before, why shouldn’t it work? A facilitator can avoid the pitfall of jumping to inappropriate conclusions by challenging the current thinking and asking process questions.

Challenge 3: Too much or lack of correct data

There is often an abundance of information and data, and which is even lacking its value. By making the groups thinking visible, sorting it in a structured way, insights are easily gained and data becomes meaningful information. What information is missing, what is still vague, what assumptions are made etc. becomes obvious. The information should be projected to the group, so all can see the progress made by the facilitator. This is key to any facilitation and can be done by either with flipcharts, a problem solving template (like the Kepner-Tregoe Tablet App) or conferencing software. Facilitators use the visibility to provide focus and attention to the right items in the issue resolution.

Challenge 4: Poor quality of information communicated to the stakeholders

In many companies, procedures are in place to update management on critical problems by specifying the impact, the expected time to resolution and so on, without specifying exactly what is going on. The management of stakeholders is critical. When there is a perceived lack of quality information and thus risk, stakeholders can pile even more pressure on the issue resolution team. Chaos can overwhelm a team if a key stakeholder takes over due to a lack of confidence that an incident is being managed correctly. Huge numbers of people get involved while only a very limited group is needed to be effective in resolving the issue at hand. A facilitator, using a predefined process for  facilitation, controls involvement of the right people, guides to proper reporting and ensures that follow-up actions are defined and responsibilities taken.

Challenge 5: Lack of a common understanding of the issue

It is amazing how often people think they understand an issue without knowing what actually happened. Cognitive biases, that are well described in social science and psych literature, are caused by effects such as anchoring, framing, and the halo effect. These biases can cause us to make the wrong decisions or identify the incorrect root cause of a problem. Under the leadership of a facilitator, sessions will always start with assessing the situation and making sure everybody knows what is going on. Providing clariry and separating issues is one of the key attributes a facilitator will need to demonstrate.


By recognizing the role of a facilitator, organizations make more effective use of the existing knowledge and experience available in their organizations. Problems, which have been persistently stuck, move towards resolution and tough situations gain oversight and structure with the strong leadership of a facilitator.

To make the role of a facilitator successful, organizations should equip the facilitators with the right processes, skills and tools to ensure they can navigate issue resolution teams past the difficult challenges they will face.


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