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Facilitation: Lack of trust

Facilitating groups can be extremely rewarding but they can also be extremely exhausting. One of the situations that makes facilitation particularly exhausting is when there is a lack of trust among group members. This may be trust among just a couple of group members between one another or it may be a lack of trust or confidence that the group will be able to accomplish its purpose.  And this lack of trust can also be contagious among group members. While this can be very difficult and discouraging, it’s not hopeless! As a facilitator, it is possible for you to be able to help group members trust one another and the group. Join me this week as I highlight three ways to address lack of trust when facilitating a group.

  1. Assess the situation. Find out why there is a lack of trust. One of the best ways to do this is to conduct an anonymous electronic survey with a few questions that can help you figure out what may be happening. If you have an idea of the areas that may be causing trust issues, then include those as potential options and provide an “other” option as well. You may want to offer some open-ended questions as well. Another way to assess the situation is to conduct key informant interviews.  Depending upon the situation, it may be best for an outside evaluator/consultant to do these interviews. Several years ago, I was asked to help a group that was struggling with trust and communication. Before making any recommendations, I conducted one-on-one interviews with the key leaders in the group and then organized the responses into themes and used that as a guide to make recommendations. If the group members are struggling with trusting one another but they appear to trust you, you may be able to do this internally.
  2. Address the situation.  Based on what you learn from the survey and/or conversations, choose one area where you will make a change. When I first started working with state-wide coalitions, we were in a group that had trust issues because there was a lack of communication. Our first step was to set up regular communication with the members. This was simply a brief email that we sent two times a month that provided updates on what the staff was doing as well as relevant resources from member organizations. This small change made a big impact on building trust among the group. You may have a situation similar to last week’s post, on competition among members which causes some trust issues. One of the best ways to increase trust is to promote the work of other group members.
  3. Believe the best in others.  As a facilitator, you are a leader and an influencer.  When you give people another chance and an opportunity to act in a trustworthy manner, you are helping create situations for them to live up to those new expectations. You can speak positively about others and believe the best in them. You can also try to empathize with them and try to understand why they may have acted in a way that may have caused trust challenges. For instance, if you have a partner who did not share information about a recently funded grant or new project, consider that they may have felt completely overwhelmed and understaffed rather than intentionally trying to leave others out.  When we believe the best in others, we create opportunities for second (or third) chances and for trust to be rebuilt. I know that sometimes this can seem impossible, and in some situations, it may be best that individual group members decide to leave the group due to trust issues. However, I encourage you to practice believing the best in others and let those really difficult situations where trust is not able to be rebuilt be the exception rather than the rule.

What about you? What have you found to be helpful in addressing lack of trust as a facilitator?

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