Change - Strategic Facilitation

by Tony Mann

Process Iceberg Organisation model® explained

At the heart of this approach to facilitation lies the strategic Process Iceberg® Organisation model (see below). It provides an explanation of much of what happens in organisations and change. The strategic Process Iceberg® is both a theoretical model and a practical way of auditing situations. The model is:

  • Hierarchical – each level has to be in place before the next one comes into play
  • Sequential – each layer follows on from the previous one
  • Inter-dependant – each level relies on the level above.



The Process Iceberg® Organisation model presumes that the organisation must know or define the strategic focus and, providing it does that, then the structure and the high-level processes will consequently follow.

The strategic focus, the structure and the high-level processes are symbiotic. The structure and the high-level processes must ‘fit’ the strategic focus and the strategic facilitator works with the senior management team to ensure that this will deliver the expected outcomes. If, and only if, the strategy is defined and the structure and high-level processes have been designed to match the need, then (in Pareto terms) 80 per cent of the difficulties of delivering the strategy will have been absorbed. Put another way, only 20 per cent of the requirements which need to be in place are affected by factors outside this (see below).


The inference here is that most of the problems in change are caused by a failure to clearly identify and clarify the strategic focus (for example, divisions, product teams, franchise or regional functions), combined with a failure to apply the right structure (to design the effective high-level processes). Therefore, the strategic facilitator’s role is primarily to help the organisation define the strategic focus and develop suitable high-level processes.


The strategic facilitator should focus their efforts on each subsequent level of the Process Iceberg® Organisation model:

  • If the strategic focus is well defined and the high-level processes ‘fit’ the change agenda, then there will be much less pressure on the organisational systems
  • If everyone understands the strategic focus and knows that the high-level processes will deliver the outcomes required, then the systems will be much more easily defined, designed and put in place
  • If these are in place, then people’s roles, skills, attributes and knowledge will be positively harnessed and contribute to the strategic direction of the organisation.

A good strategic facilitator will have helped design the high-level processes required to meet the change agenda needs and to balance and maximise the staff input. If this is all in balance, then people’s emotions will be neutral and people will be able to concentrate on the change agenda in hand. Be aware that ‘neutral’ does not mean dull or inactive, rather it means that people will neither be unenthusiastic nor negative and hostile. This creates the atmosphere for positive buy-in.


Each level of the Process Iceberg® Organisation model is inter-dependant. In the previous section, the key word was ‘if’. If, and only if, all the levels are in place, the strategic facilitator has made a conscious effort to work ‘down’ through the levels. The organisation/team will then find tackling the objective much easier. In other words, each level is dependant on the level above having been actioned and being ‘in place’.

Strategic focus and high-level processes and structure

The very first thing that an organisation needs to do is to spend time defining the strategic focus. It can be frightening to say, ‘We have to spend the first hour defining what we’re going to define.’ The strategic facilitator needs to give the team the courage to accept that it is OK to spend time looking at the strategic focus and to legitimise the need to spend time identifying the goals.

Therefore, the first thing that the strategic facilitator has to do is to define a strategic process and a format that will enable the organisation to define the strategic focus. In ‘uncertainty’, the first thing that an organisation has to learn to rely on (and a strategic facilitator has to encourage this) is that they have a robust enough strategic process and format to enable them to find the question. They should be prepared to spend time working in ‘uncertainty’, not knowing what the question is, yet confident that they have actually got a mechanism for finding the question. If you were going to walk across very soft snow, you would probably want to wear snowshoes that spread your weight. These snowshoes would give you a larger footprint than your normal shoe, enabling you to walk across what otherwise would be impossible terrain because they would spread the load of your body. That is the nature of a strategic process and format: it has to be designed so that it prevents the organisation from ‘falling’ down through the snow, enabling it to ‘walk across the top’ until they define the objective. The role of a strategic facilitator is to devise a strategic process to sustain them until the question begins to solidify, until they get onto firm ground. That strategic process has to carry them all the time until they reach that point.

Interpersonal interactions

One of the other most powerful interpersonal skills that the organisation can use is analogies. An analogy, such as snowshoes going over snow, is a way of trying to explain the nature of uncertainty before the organisation knows the question. It translates difficult concepts and ideas into pictures that people can connect with. In addition, using Feedback and SPO will help the organisation check understanding and build common purpose.

Team roles

The next important thing is to check the balance of people’s team roles, to ensure that the organisation is not over emphasising any particular aspect. Those of you who use Belbin or Myers-Briggs will know that if there is a predominance of ‘ideas people’ in the meeting, then the likelihood is that all you are going to get is ideas. If there is a predominance of ISTJs (introverted, sensing, thinking, judging types) the organisation is likely to drive on through in one particular direction, hoping that it’s the right one, but without doing a lot of exploration around the issue or solution.

Ideally, there should be a balance of types among the team roles. However, it is unlikely that in any naturally-formed team/organisation the team roles/personality types are balanced. The strategic facilitator should take account of this likelihood by designing a flexible, adaptable, multi-type strategic process that allows every type to maximise their input.


All of the above is to ensure that the organisation is in neutral emotion: in other words, that people are not getting frightened, angry, disturbed or aggressive and also, equally important, that they’re getting too excited. There is nothing wrong with people being enthused in an organisation, feeling good about what they are doing and in that sense excited about the potential, but too much excitement can cause problems.


There was a famous company in the United Kingdom, which produced vacuum cleaners. On one occasion, it ran a marketing campaign claiming that if you bought a machine you could get a trip to America. It was a marketing and financial disaster, which ended in a number of complaints because people had found they were not able to get the flight they wanted and were very unhappy. Maybe, when that marketing campaign was put in place, there was a great deal of excitement and enthusiasm, but not enough challenge and critical examination of the potential consequences of the decision. The emotions were not neutral; they were over balanced: too much emphasis on ‘oh this will be good’, rather than on ‘let’s examine this, let’s look at this carefully’.

So even in uncertainty people should be supported by a good strategic process so that they can keep calm and tackle the change agenda without feeling frightened, without feeling unduly negative about it, and without feeling so worried or excited that they go off in the wrong direction.

Therefore, in order that the people do not get over emotional, the function and the responsibility of a strategic facilitator is to

  • Design an effective strategic process to achieve the objective
  • Use an appropriate format that will enable people to feel secure
  • Ensure that the individuals in the organisation are using their interpersonal skills effectively
  • Ensure that the team roles are balanced and any weaknesses dealt with by the use of suitable tools and techniques.