Grounding: Moving People Into Space

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Scott Murphy, MA

You are driving home from a busy day at work, fragments of one situation or another still tumbling around in your head. You hear the voices, consider the possibilities and talk back as if they might change their thinking now many hours later. What you don’t realize is that you’ve driven five blocks down a busy, traffic-laden street without seeing a single street light, street sign or pedestrian. Green, yellow, red. You’ve no idea. Been there, done that.

Grounding is a first move as a facilitator to
shepherd people into the work of the day

Our minds are busy, not just on the way home after we work, but while we are still working, even together. It is easy to sit physically in a space, but not be there intellectually or socially. So, one of the most important facets of any collaborative time and facilitative act is to help ground folks in the time and space.

Grounding is a first move as a facilitator to shepherd people into the work of the day. The intention is to move people fully into a space both as individuals and collectively. When grounding is effective, individuals are able to move through and past the spaces they have been to become fully present in the space they are. As a result, their voice, their thinking, their contribution has much greater potential to the team as well as work being done. This empathetic facilitation act is a gentle way to express expectation while gaining trust through consideration. “We are going to work and think together today, and I will help you make this transition.”

Bring people into space with care and purpose
and you’ll likely get the best of their thinking.

Some things to consider when grounding with teams:

The grounding should move people toward the intention for the time together. It is not an “ice-breaker” which is often disconnected and purely social. Grounding supports the social movement as well as intellectual movement toward the focused work.

It should allow for all voices. A facilitator needn’t be the audience for voice during the grounding. The dialogue could be in pairs, small groups or the whole group.

It should take a small amount of time. Perhaps 5 minutes for an hour meeting, 15 minutes for a half days work.

Effective Grounding:

Trios – (a favorite of mine with larger groups like a whole staff, school or large team) – Invite folks to stand in groups of three. Give the group a question to think about. Allow 30 seconds for folks to consider a response. Then, each member of the group speaks for one minute, one at a time, uninterrupted by the others, for a total of 3-4 minutes. After this round, invite them to find two others they are not standing with for a second, deeper, more connected question. Do 2 or 3 rounds depending on time. This structure emphasizes both speaking about ideas as well as listening deeply with respect.

Sentence stems – Something like “I believe the purpose of homework to be…” when beginning a meeting on new homework policy allows folks to initiate their thinking and share initial ideas to each other. Small groups share out from one person to the next.

Postcards from the edge – Have postcards or images that allow people to share an insight connected to the card. Participants select a card. It could be how it represents their day. It could be what they’ve been working on professionally. Many possibilities.

Create your own grounding. Plan out your own connections. These are not very complex or involved, you say. Exactly! Grounding is focused, a simple structure, with a tight timeline, honoring to those involved. Bring people into space with care and purpose and you’ll likely get the best of their thinking.

Skip the grounding, however, and you have a room full of people who may or may not “arrive” for a while. Been there, done that.


Learn More at an Upcoming Institute


Enjoy Denver, the Mile High City, when you attend Impact Through Skilled Facilitation

Impact Through Skilled Facilitation
In this institute, you will learn how to create a learning culture worthy of students and teachers by cultivating a collaborative culture.
October 10-11, 2017
Thornton, CO

Explore how to deepen your listening skills, wield protocols effectively and navigate group dynamics as a powerful facilitator.


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