Sunday, August 23, 2009


Growth Facilitators has always stood for progress and change. Sometimes this means departures, separations and endings, but endings are always new beginnings. In this spirit of growth, we wish to advise you of the many changes that have taken place at Growth Facilitators.

Firstly, Marguerite relocated to Canada this summer. Toronto is a plane ride away from Jamaica and the Caribbean, so she will continue to be available for your facilitation, consulting and coaching needs. Look for more of her presence in cyberspace as she builds her Free and Laughing brand!

Robert has started a new firm on July 1, 2009 and will continue to add value to your organization as needed.

Other team members are spreading their wings, doing new and exciting things – new jobs, projects, their own firms. Look for them as they soar!

We are delighted to have been facilitators of choice in the Caribbean over the past eight years, and to have added value to all spheres of society. We are specially delighted to have shared our thoughts with you on this blog and thank you for your comments!

Wishing you all the very best in the future

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Importance of Environment for a Successful Facilitation

contributed by Sharon Carruthers

The facilitator is not only responsible to ensure that the group achieves the agreed tangible outcomes. Of equal importance, the facilitator ensures that participants feel involved and engaged throughout the process, buy in to the results and are committed to implementing agreed actions – i.e. their experience during the process and how they feel at the end of the process.

Facilitators utilize many facilitation skills and techniques to encourage all group members to participate fully, remain fully engaged, collaborate, effectively deal with conflict and make meaningful decisions in an efficient and effective manner, and gain the desired results. Effective facilitators know that the environment in which the group works is very important to ensuring these results. When group members are relaxed, comfortable, energized, enjoying what they are doing, and feel safe, this stimulates creativity and teamwork, helps generate ideas and keeps participants engaged for as long as is necessary to achieve desired results.

This is why at GF we spend so much time, effort and money on creating and maintaining the right environment. It begins with the selection of the venue. We always recommend that groups come out of their normal office environment and go somewhere scenic and away from distractions. It continues with the layout of the rooms – round tables for collaboration versus classroom style, to the use of ice breakers and energizers, bright colours – (markers, coloured paper), music, table toys, prizes, fun activities and games.

In any GF workshop you will observe laughter, active engagement of all in games and other fun activities, and colours galore. In this newsletter you will see some photos of us at work in creating environments where participants are having fun while working hard.

So as you select a facilitator or seek to enhance your own facilitation skills, consider the importance of creating and maintaining the right environment to the success of the event. A successful workshop is much more than the facilitator just showing up with flipchart and markers!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Facilitation - A Powerful Tool for Group Effectiveness (contributed by Sandra Cooper, CPF)

One of the realities of organisational life is that groups are needed to do what cannot be done by individuals alone. However, working groups are not always effective. Capable, talented individuals are often frustrated by the myriad challenges unearthed when they come together to get things done, challenges such as:

Long-winded discussions without resolution
Lack of buy-in to group goals and decisions
Domineering leader or group members
Personality differences and clashes causing lack of cooperation
Members giving in to decisions without really supporting them
Decisions, actions and responsibilities not formally recorded, so members “forget” or are not clear about what was said from meeting to meeting

And the list could go on and on. A group is as complex and difficult as the sum total of the problems and people that comprise it. Without skilled leadership and good process management, groups will not be as effective as they could be. More and more organizations are recognizing this and are increasingly drawing on those with facilitation skills to help in addressing this phenomenon.

What is Facilitation?

Facilitation is a form of leading and communicating with the intent of achieving results with maximum creativity, involvement and commitment to a task. It involves the use of a rich and well-defined set of internationally recognised tools and practices that improve group effectiveness by overcoming some of the inherent difficulties of working in groups, and makes the work of the group easier (facile – to make easy), while achieving the best possible results. Let’s look at an example. Meetings are the fundamental way people get together as a group and the arena in which decisions are often made. Yet people complain of spending their lives in unproductive meetings without accomplishing any “real” work. Many organizations have learned over a long history of unproductive and contentious meetings that results don’t happen just by bringing team members together in one room. Anyone who has sat in a meeting that was dominated by one member, that never produced an action plan, that was sparsely attended, or that was punctuated by cell phones ringing every two minutes and team members running out of the room constantly, will agree that meetings need guidance and structure, ground rules, and results. Unless an organization sets out to intentionally cause productive meetings, poor meeting practices become a habit. Facilitators are needed more than ever to help organizations improve meeting productivity by providing focus and structure, managing the meeting environment, addressing disruptions, difficulties or conflict, soliciting feedback and careful recording of the output and results generated by the group.

The Role of the Facilitator

The facilitator’s role is to manage the process and to remain neutral about the content of the discussion. The process is how group members work together and interact with each other and how decisions are made. Content refers to the ideas generated, the arguments proposed, the decisions made and the actions planned. The facilitator takes an active role describing, suggesting, leading and intervening so as to make it easier for the group to complete its tasks successfully. A skilled facilitator continually considers questions like: Are the objectives clear? Are they being adhered to? Is the meeting on schedule? Are people listening to one another? Who talks with whom? Is everyone contributing? Is the energy level of the group high or low? While working with a group, he of she can:

Draw out participation
Encourage dialogue among participants and different points of view
Listen actively and asks others to do the same
Record, organize and summarize input from group members
Move the group through stages of group decision making and consensus
Help the group resolve conflict in a positive and productive way
Encourage the group to evaluate its own progress and development
Protect group members and their ideas from attack or being ignored
Emphasize that the group is a reservoir of knowledge, experience, and creativity and use facilitation skills to tap this resource

Who Can Become a Facilitator?

Just about any professional in an organisation with good communication and interpersonal skills can become a facilitator. Indeed, it makes good sense for team leaders and department managers to develop facilitation skills so as to support their work group in achieving its objectives and in maximizing effectiveness. Teams that need to develop corporate strategies, make decisions, plot technical directions, plan consistent communications messages, or do any of the myriad of other organizational direction-setting activities need a discussion leader. They need a facilitator who can lead them into focused areas of discussion, can assist in recording and clarifying proposals and ideas, can diplomatically move past controversial and unproductive arguments, and can apply a structured process to getting results from meetings. Facilitation is also a skill that every consultant needs to develop, one that produces results for clients in ways that pure technical or subject-matter expertise never could.

Dynamic Facilitation Opens Doors of New Possibility

In today’s economic climate of stretched resources, uncertainty and unpredictability, can you imagine a workplace environment where there is open communication, teamwork and harmonious interpersonal relationships prevailing at all levels of the organization? Such a state of organisational utopia in not as far-fetched as it may seem, indeed, the participative nature of facilitation opens doors of new possibility as:

Employees are more motivated to support decisions made
Maximum participation and involvement increase productivity
Managers and leaders are better able to draw on those they lead as resources, an ability that is critical to organizational success
Everyone has a chance to be influential and useful, and people sense that they are an integral part of a team effort
Organizations can be flexible and produce results more quickly because people are committed to the decisions made
People realise that the responsibility for implementing decisions lies with everyone
Innovation and problem-solving skills are built
People are encouraged to think and act for the overall good of the organisation
Negative effects such as low morale, low involvement, and withholding information from others, as well as attitudes such as “It’s not my job” are less likely

There are so many events and activities that can benefit from the intervention of a skilled facilitator. These include but are not limited to Strategic Planning, Crisis Management, Creative Problem-solving, Visioning, Staff meetings, Trust Building and Team Building, Conflict Resolution and Mediation.

Facilitation and the Way Forward

In the future, as more and more organizations come to realize the importance of group productivity and effectiveness at all levels, the role of the facilitator will become increasingly important. The more there is change, the more need there will be for group communication, group involvement and group decision-making. Organizations that want to increase their overall effectiveness might consider developing a core of trained and experienced facilitators drawn from all levels of leadership and available to the organisation to lead and coach teams, design and facilitate important meetings and retreats, and widen the channels of communication and cooperation. Indeed, facilitation skills can be applied by just about anyone; in the family, in communities, in the church, in schools, in government, and in any setting where people with diverse interests, personalities and backgrounds come together to meet, discuss and decide. Facilitators and those with facilitation skills have much to contribute.

Sandra Cooper is a Certified Professional Facilitator and CEO of Partners for Change. She can be reached at

Rees, Frans: The Facilitator Excellence Handbook John Wiley and Sons 2005
Friedman, Rick: The IT Consultant: A Commonsense Framework for Managing The Client Relationship; Jossey Bass 2007

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Prime Minister Golding misses the mark in his National Broadcast!

It is now 8:13 pm Sunday, April 5, 2009. I have just listened to Prime Minister Golding deliver an approximate 11 minute national broadcast ostensibly setting the context and preparing the nation for the 2009-2010 Budget, whose estimates of expenditure are due to be laid at Parliament’s opening on Tuesday. Mr. Golding attempted to lecture us on Macro Economics 101. He was clear that it cannot be business as usual, and we should expect some expenditure cuts. He also spoke at length on the need to implement tax reforms now. I wait with baited breath hoping that huge tax increases are not sold as tax reforms!

The most interesting part of the broadcast was the Prime Minister volunteering to reduce his salary by 15% and asking all Members of Parliaments to do so. While I laud the prime Minister for giving up a portion of his salary, I must remind everyone that salary constitutes a relatively small portion of the cost to maintain the Prime Minister and his fellow Cabinet Ministers. Other costs include entire ministries, travelling etc. Instead, Mr. Golding should have announced a reduction of 15% in the number of Cabinet Ministers and consequently Ministries. There should also be a reduction in the number of State Ministers/Parliamentary Secretaries.

The Ministries would then include: 1) Office of the Prime Minister(OPM), Planning & Development; 2) Finance & Public Service; 3) Agriculture; 4) Education & Youth; 5) Labour and Social Security; 6) Health & Environment; 7) Foreign Affairs & Foreign Trade; 8) National Security; 9) Justice; 10) Industry, Commerce & Tourism; 11) Transport & Works; 12) Water & Housing; 13) Energy, Telecommunications & Mining; 14) Information, Culture, Sports & Entertainment. This would mean a reduction from 16 to 14 Ministries. Tourism is added to Industry and Commerce as the Jamaica Tourist Board is the main driver of that portfolio, not the Ministry. Energy can return to Mining & Telecommunications as these were separated to find a job for Minister Derrick Smith after returning from surgery. Only two Ministers without Portfolio are needed: 1 each for OPM and Finance. As the House Speaker is a Cabinet position, this then results in 17 members of the Cabinet, down from 20, which gives us the 15% reduction.

The reduction in Ministries and Cabinet Ministers would send a strong message through the Public Sector that it is not business as usual. Mr. Golding’s idea to take a 15% cut and hope that others will follow suit will have little impact on the overall public sector expenditure. The Prime Minister has clearly missed the mark!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Letter to the Gleaner Editor

I write in response to the article published in your paper on March 19, 2009 entitled “Non-traditionals trump' established' schools - Top 28% of 'older' institutions”. This article is totally misleading and the Ministry of Education continues to pull a fast one over the general public.

The article claims that “Jonathan Grant, Old Harbour, Denbigh and Lewisville high schools had more than 70 per cent of their subject entries receiving passing grades”. When one examines the data and looks at success rate in Math and English Language it tells a different story. These are the only two compulsory subjects island wide and are therefore best used to compare school performance at CSEC. The success of a school cannot be measured by the pass rate of those who sat the exam; rather it must be of the pass rate of the entire Grade 11 cohort (total number of students in Grade 11 and therefore eligible to sit the exam) as is used in the Task Force Report on Education Reform. In the case of English Language the pass rate varied from 4% at Lewisville to 41% at Denbigh; while for Math it varied from 3% to 17%. Defining the pass rate based on the number of students who actually sat the exam is the Ministry's way of falsely claiming it has achieved anything.

Jamaica’s grades trending, but still not good enough

Selected data from the National Council on Education (NCE) in Jamaica as well as the Ministries of Education (MOE) in both Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) indicate that Jamaican students lag behind their counterparts from T&T. It is instructive to point out however that while the national results for T&T have been declining since 2001; those for Jamaica have been increasing. The significant dip in Jamaica’s performance in 2004 coincides with the very first GSAT graduates sitting the CXC exams. Attempts to get similar data for Barbados proved futile; however the World Economic Forum has ranked the Quality of Barbados’ Education System at #10 in the world compared to #88 for Jamaica and #46 for T&T.

There are many schools of thought and many methods used to compare the national student CXC performance. One is easily tempted to use the pass rate based on those who registered and sat exams, however this distorts the analysis as in many cases, particularly in Jamaica many students are deliberately not entered and are therefore eliminated from the assessment system very early. Instead, we have chosen to use the total Grade 11 cohort. Jamaica’s Grade 11 cohort was 40,690 in 2004 compared to 22,692 for T&T.

Using non-compulsory subjects such as Information Technology of Physics, again distort the results as there is a natural selection process and many students choose not to take these subjects, yet alone sit the subjects. In certain cases this makes sense as it is deemed a waste of resources entering certain students. Instead we use the results for English Language and Mathematics which are universally compulsory subjects.

While 88% of the cohort registered and sat English in T&T, only 56% did so in Jamaica. 43% of the T&T cohort was successful compared to 31% for Jamaica. While T&T’s performance has declined since 2001 (57% down to 43%); Jamaica’s performance actually increased over the same period (28% up to 31%). Jamaica’s English pass rates in Traditional, Upgraded and Technical High Schools were 64%, 14% and 23% respectively.

A similar comparison holds true for Mathematics. While 88% of the cohort registered and sat Math in T&T, only 46% did so in Jamaica. 41% of the T&T cohort was successful compared to 20% for Jamaica. While T&T’s performance has declined since 2001 (45% down to 41%); Jamaica’s performance actually increased over the same period (16% up to 20%). Breaking down Jamaica’s performance by school category, the data indicate that in both English and Math there were increases over 2001 for the Traditional and Upgraded Schools and a decline since 2001 for Technical schools. Why then are Jamaican students generally performing at a lower level than their counterparts in T&T and ostensibly even more so than those in Barbados? Let us look at Government investment in Education, national policies and other practices.

The World Economic Forum reports that Jamaica’s expenditure on education is one of its 10 best economic strengths, while the quality of its education system is among its 10 worst economic weaknesses. In fact, Jamaica’s economic spend at 5.05% of its Gross National Income (GNI) ranks #36 in the world and #4 in the Latin America region. Barbados spends 6.99% of its GNI ranking #9 in the world and #1 in the Latin American region. T&T spends a paltry 4.01% of GNI ranking #67 in the world and #13 in the Region. The fact that Jamaica’s Quality of Education ranks at #88 suggests that our return on investment leaves very much to be desired. This is quite similar to the poor return on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as during the 1990’s and early 2000’s Jamaica led the world in FDI with little conversion to GDP growth. The poor returns on FDI and Education expenditure point to inefficiencies in our public sector. We therefore turn to the Education policies in Jamaica and in T&T.

The 2004 Task Force Report on Education Reform in Jamaica and the 2008 National Report on the Development of Education in Trinidad & Tobago indicate several commonalities between the policies of the two countries.

1. The Jamaica 2030 Vision and the T&T Vision 2020 are the respective national contexts

2. Both countries agree that the education systems must be student-centred, with full access and full stakeholder participation.

3. Jamaica stresses autonomy and authority at the school level while T&T’s Report focuses on school-based management.

4. The respective Ministry will focus on policy and Quality Management; while in Jamaica Regional Education Authorities (REA’s) are to provide support to schools.

5. Jamaica’s Task Force Report indicates a shift from funding institutions to funding students.

We were unable to gather the relevant information on how effective T&T has been in implementing its Education policy and will therefore limit the review to Jamaica.

To implement the Task Force Report, both transformational and improvement initiatives need to be addressed. Transformational activities require minimal resources along with national and political will, paradigm shifts and tough decision-taking. Improvement initiatives on the other hand require lots of resources but have very little impact on the education outcomes without any transformation.

The paradigm shift, political will and tough decision-making required to make the Jamaican Education System student-centred, to give individual schools the required authority and autonomy and to hold everyone in the system accountable for performance have not occurred. To be fair, the former and current administrations have made concerted efforts to improve stakeholder involvement and this should continue. However, while significant resources have been spent in restructuring the MOE and establishing supporting institutions such as the National Education Inspectorate, there has been little change in the management of the education delivery. The attempt by the MOE to decentralize and delegate authority to the Regional Authorities was not the intention of the Task Force Report and will not result in Education Transformation. The fact is that while changes are required at the Ministry, transformation needs to occur at the school level.

Jamaica’s poor education performance combined with the fact that Jamaica ranks high on education expenditure is an indication of an inefficient public sector supporting the education system. Secondly, the lack of political/national will, paradigm shifts and tough decision-taking by successive administrations to effectively implement the transformational initiatives outlined by the National Task Force on Education Reform in Jamaica have resulted in dismal CXC performances.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Misunderstanding the Citizens Charter Concept at PIOJ

This morning I ventured into the offices of the Planning Institute of Jamaica to conduct some research for an article. I had tried getting the information, GDP figures for Jamaica in current prices for the years 2001 – 2008, from the Ministry of Finance website and on the PIOJ website but to no avail. In fact, the Ministry of Finance’s website was much more helpful than that for PIOJ as apparently one has to subscribe to the PIOJ to download anything. I therefore walked to Oxford Road, asked to go to the Documentation Centre to do my research. The Receptionist asked if I had an appointment, to which I responded no as all I need was some data from their reports and if I was shown to the Doc. Centre I would be able to get it on my own. I was then asked to speak by telephone to someone in the Document Centre who insisted I had to first make an appointment. When I told her that as a Customer I feel totally dissatisfied she said that the PIOJ Customer Charter makes it very clear that customers are to make an appointment. When I told her that making an appointment to get information was inconvenient to customer while convenient for the PIOJ she told me I was rude at which point I hung up the phone and left the building.

The PIOJ clearly does not understand what a Customer Charter is. Ministry Paper 56/02 describes the objective of Public Sector Reform in Jamaica as The creation “of an open and impartial public sector, which puts the public’s interests first, and in which valued and respected professionals deliver high quality services efficiently and effectively”. The PIOJ’s decision to make customers make appointments goes contrary to the above definition as our interests are secondary to the PIOJ’s. In developing a Citizen’s Charter, what is required is that customers must be consulted on how best to satisfy them, then to put in place systems to deliver on that satisfaction. There must then be an agreement with the citizens interest placed first. I encourage my good friend Dr. Wesley Hughes, Director General of the PIOJ to rethink this one.