The Participation Blog

Facilitation Tips: Gangs, Secret Clubs and Five Questions

Facilitation Tips and Belonging to a Gang?

I belong to a motorcycle gang. I’m also in a bicycle club. I never go to the meetings, I don’t actually know many of the other respective members, and I don’t usually see them unless we meet on the road, but we have a bond and a code that people who aren’t one us wouldn’t understand.

a photo of retro-looking motorcyclists, illustrating facilitation tips

Bikers (motorcycle riders) usually acknowledge each other out on the street or highway. It’s subtle, and it typically doesn’t make any difference whether the biker’s wearing ‘cuts’ and riding choppers, or if they’re on dirt bikes wearing armor – it’s a brother/sisterhood. Bikers pull over to check on other bikers if they look like they might need help – we take care of each other. And we don’t pay much attention to bicycle riders.

Cyclists (bicycle riders) usually acknowledge each other on the road, street or trail. It’s subtle and cyclists also check on other stopped cyclists if it looks like they need help. We take care of each other, it’s another exclusive spandex brother/sisterhood. We don’t pay a lot of attention to bikers or other people in internal combustion boxes – except to stay out of their way.

A lot of clubs are hard to spot – or even understand – for outsiders. Those of us who fish are in at least two different camps: fly fishermen like barbless hooks, streams, and 4-weight rods; bait fishermen go for motors, spinners and minnows. These two can be as militant as voters in red states or blue states. Different values and deep feelings.

What Clubs are You In?

Facilitators have clubs, too; so do planners, carpenters, biologists, activists, cops, teachers, bricklayers, lawyers, moms, knitters, rich white suburban kids, minority inner-city high schoolers, and, well, you get it – the list is endless. And inside each of these groups are even more specific and more exclusive sub-specialty clubs – each with their own beliefs, loyalties, biases, language and culture.

Truth is, we’re all in clubs of various kinds and when you’re not in the club you can feel pretty weird around those other club members – even ostracized. Most club members like that special in-the-secret-club feeling. A few are really obvious – some are very subtle, but it’s there, and non-club members feel it and know it. It’s kind of like walking into a strange, small-town bar where everyone there knows everyone else – but you.

Facilitation Tips: 5 Questions to Ask

The craft of facilitation, conflict resolution and building consensus is about getting competing club members together in a safe space with a comfortable, inviting process. And one of the tougher things to do is to truly understand the variety and subtlety of the clubs represented.

So, although there are lots of other good questions to ask, here are five simple club questions that you might want to consider when you’re getting these groups and people together:

  1. Do we have all of the right clubs here?
  2. Are these really the only clubs that need to be here? (I know it’s redundant but it’s that important.)
  3. Are there people who need to be here who aren’t actually in any of these clubs?
  4. What can we do to convince these clubs and people to spend time with each other?
  5. How are we going to manage this brand new club that will inevitably develop from this process?

It’s a nice, moderately different and effective way of thinking about a timeless subject. My facilitation tips of the day for our club of public participation workers.