Talk-in-interaction in Facilitated and Training Workshops in Organizations: A Summary of Findings from Conversation Analysis - PDF

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Talk-in-interaction in Facilitated and Training Workshops in Organizations: A Summary of Findings from Conversation Analysis Sascha ABSTRACT This article presents a summary of the findings of a doctoral
Talk-in-interaction in Facilitated and Training Workshops in Organizations: A Summary of Findings from Conversation Analysis Sascha ABSTRACT This article presents a summary of the findings of a doctoral study (, 2011) that used the methodology of Conversation Analysis (CA) to explore talk and physical conduct in two different types of workshops in organizations, specifically a facilitated workshop and a training workshop. Very little empirical research on facilitator talk-in-interaction has been conducted, and it is this deficit which the doctoral thesis aimed to start addressing. A one and a half-day facilitated workshop and a one-day training workshop led by independent consultants and involving medium-sized groups were video recorded and audio recorded. The study was an institutional CA study that pursued two main avenues of research enquiry. First, the institutionality of the workshops was investigated by demonstrating an aspect of the workshop conduct that is distinct from ordinary conversation, namely asymmetry in the participation roles between the parties to the interaction. The workshop leader(s) typically performed initiating actions and the workshop participants typically performed responding actions. Second, two particular institutional tasks in the workshops were analyzed, specifically how the workshop leader managed the transitions into and out of activities performed by the participants in sub group participant configurations (i.e., individually, in pairs, in small groups). It is hoped that by drawing attention to the interactional practices that workshop leaders engage in when leading workshops will help practitioners to reflect upon their practice and be more intentional. As the dataset was comprised of only two workshops, future research could seek to investigate additional instances of either or both types of workshops. KEYWORDS group facilitation, conversation analysis, institutional talk, talk-in-interaction, facilitated workshop, training workshop Introduction Several years ago, after participating in many chaired meetings in my job at a university, I discovered through attending a meeting of the Victorian Facilitators Network (VFN) that there was another way of leading meetings - that of group facilitation. After observing the seemingly open and inviting language of the facilitator of this meeting, the linguist in me wondered, How is facilitation realized through language? In pursuit of answering this question, together with my husband Dr. Andrew and friend Viv McWaters, both facilitators, we invited facilitators to reflect on their language use in facilitation by means of an online reflective practice survey. Facilitators were asked if and what they understood by the term speaking facilitatively, and to list words and phrases that they used in their facilitation practice. Over one hundred facilitators from across the globe responded to the survey (, McWaters, &, 2006). Many respondents, in their descriptions of what it meant to speak facilitatively, mentioned asking questions. The majority of facilitators also viewed body language to be equally as important, if not more important, than spoken language in facilitation, and most respondents believed that the two should be congruent., Sascha (2013). Talk-in-interaction in Facilitated and Training Workshops in Organizations: A Summary of Findings from Conversation Analysis Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications Journal, Number 12, Copyright by the authors and International Association of Facilitators. All rights reserved. 5 After eliciting facilitators perceptions of their language use in facilitation, I wondered, How is facilitation actually realized through talk and body language? Searching the literature, I was unable initially to find any empirical research specifically on language use in real-life facilitated sessions. In a publication of our research findings (, McWaters, &, 2006), we suggested that future research could analyse facilitators language-in-use by performing audio and video recordings of live facilitated sessions. The doctoral thesis (, 2011) on which this article is based is one of the products of this future research. Literature review A. Institutional talk There is a comparative lack of research on institutional interaction in generic office environments as compared to that in specialised workplace settings such as a medical centre or a classroom as in doctor-patient or teacher-student interactions. Drew and Heritage (1992) coined the term institutional talk to denote the inherently task-related form of talk that takes place in the workplace and other institutional settings, and to distinguish it from mundane everyday conversation. Institutional talk is institutional not because of the institutional setting in which it takes place, but rather because participants institutional or professional identities are somehow made relevant to the work activities in which they are engaged (Drew & Heritage, 1992, p. 4). For talk to be institutional, at least one of the participants in the interaction needs to represent a formal organization. B. Meetings The meeting has been a favoured formal context in which to examine spoken discourse (Holmes and Stubbe, 2003), and a particularly important one as many employees (e.g., managers) spend a significant amount of their time in meetings, and this is the context in which much work is performed (Kikoski & Kikoski, 2004). The types of meetings studied by discourse analysts (i.e., researchers that study language- in-use) have been fairly homogeneous in that they typically share the following characteristics: 1) a meeting chair leads the meeting; 2) the meeting leader is an organizational employee; 3) they involve small groups, i.e., up to 15 participants (Hunter, 2007); 4) the business of the meeting is accomplished in the whole group; and 5) the business is accomplished through the participation formats of presentations, reports, and discussion. C. Facilitated meetings As is the case for other professions (e.g., law and teaching), there are many training manuals and other practical how-to books on facilitation for practicing or aspiring facilitators written by facilitation practitioners. Given that the business of facilitation is talk, it is not surprising that the importance of facilitator language to the facilitation process is often alluded to in these resources. For example: Facilitation may involve some of the highest levels of human interaction and communication skills. (Hogan, 2002, p. 10); task and relational communication [are] the main ingredients of effective group facilitation. (Chilberg, 2005, p. 151); and, Whether for twenty, two hundred, or two thousand participants, the words we use [in facilitation] matter. (James, Eggers, & Hughes-Rease, 2005, p. 348). Facilitator spoken language in the practitioner-written literature is usually described in terms of behavioural categories, or facilitative behaviours (Hogan, 2003). A facilitator may speak or intervene for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways, with the type of intervention dependant on its purpose (Hunter, 2007). Questioning is unanimously acknowledged as an essential facilitation skill and the key communicative behaviour in facilitation (Bens, 2005; Fails, 2003; Garmston, 2003; Heron, 1999; Hogan, 2003; IAF, 2003). Active listening is probably the second most widely mentioned communicative behaviour after questioning (Bentley, 1994; Fails, 2003; Hogan, 2003; IAF, 2003). It is an umbrella term that is commonly used to refer to the behaviours of paraphrasing, mirroring or echoing, i.e., using a participant s exact words, either the last few words from the end of a participant s turn or contextually significant words from the middle of their turn (Heron, 1999), and reflecting feelings or meaning (Hogan, 2003). Active listening involves the facilitator giving their full attention to the participant who is talking. It is mentioned as a skill under both Creating and sustaining a participatory environment and Guiding groups to appropriate and useful outcomes, two of the six facilitator competencies required for certification by the International Association of Facilitators (IAF, 2003). Therefore, active listening is thought to perform both a process and task function in facilitation. However, despite the recognised importance of a facilitator s communication skills to doing facilitation, very little empirical research on facilitator talk-in-interaction has been conducted. To the best of the author s knowledge, there have been only two published studies to date that analyze language and social interaction in workplace business meetings facilitated by an allocated third-party group facilitator (as opposed to an allocated chairperson): Cooren, Thompson, Canestraro, and Bodor (2006); and, Savage and Hilton (2001). In these studies, in accordance with espoused group facilitator conduct, the facilitator used one or more participatory group processes to help the group accomplish its work. For example, Savage and Hilton (2001) refer to a number of brainstorming sessions (p. 53) being conducted by one of the two Quality of Working Life work-site committees whose unspecified number of labour management Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications Journal, Number 12, decision-making meetings comprised their data corpus. Cooren et al. (2006) describe an exercise in a facilitation process which includes an activity performed individually by the group members and a following activity which involves the participation of the group members and the two co-facilitators. While both of these studies describe examples of interaction amongst the facilitator(s) and the group members in one or more meetings, only the study by Cooren et al. (2006) represented and analysed the meeting participants language-in-use, and this was limited in scope as only a single exercise from one meeting in the facilitation process was examined. Cooren et al. s (2006) data corpus was comprised of a series of audio-recorded biweekly or monthly meetings of a group of managers from various branches of a US state s criminal justice system, facilitated by external facilitators who were contracted from a university-affiliated Centre. The objective of the meetings was to develop a web portal strategy. D. Workshops While there is a growing number of studies of talk-in-interaction in chaired workplace meetings, and a couple of interaction-based studies of facilitated workplace meetings, there is a lack of interaction-based research on workshops of any type, in any setting. To date, there have been no conversation analytic studies of workshops published. Only one interaction-based study of facilitated workshops in organizations has been conducted by Papamichail, Alves, French, Yang, and Snowdon (2007). This study, however, analyzed simulated facilitated workshops that were set up by the researchers for the purposes of the research, rather than naturally occurring workshops. Additionally, it was not a discourse analytic study focused on the workshop participants languagein-use. Rather, using the grounded theory methodology (Glaser & Strauss, 1967), which uses a researcher s observations of activities in an interactional episode (which in this case were based on the video-recordings of the workshops) as the data for analysis, was employed. The objective was to compare and contrast how process tools and methods, specifically Problem Structuring Methods (PSMs), were implemented by the different facilitators to achieve the workshop objective as a means of identifying best practice in the use of such methods. As the data analysed in this study were observations of interaction in the workshops (both researcher and workshop participant observations), rather than recordings of facilitatorgroup talk-in-interaction, it was not possible to gain much insight from this study into how workshops are conducted in, and through, facilitator-group talk-in-interaction. Method A. Aims My doctoral study aimed to commence filling a gap in the literature on talk-in-interaction in business settings other than the traditional chaired business meeting. It sought to contribute to the growing body of workplace interaction research by using a conversation analytic approach, i.e., examining the sequential organization of talk and other conduct in interaction, to analyse interaction in two different types of workshops in organizations (i.e., facilitated workshops, where a facilitator guides a group s process, and training workshops, where a trainer delivers content to a group of learners in addition to guiding the group s process) which were led by independent consultants and involved medium-sized groups, i.e., between 15 and 30 participants (Hunter, 2007). It was the first study to analyse talk-in-interaction in the institutional settings of a naturally occurring facilitated workshop and training workshop. The thesis pursued two main avenues of research enquiry. The first was highlighting the institutionality of the workshops by comparing an aspect of the interactional conduct in the workshops that is distinct from ordinary conversation; namely asymmetry in the participation roles between the parties to the interaction. The second main avenue of research enquiry was that it explored how two particular institutional tasks in the workshops were accomplished interactionally; namely how the facilitator or trainer managed the transitions into and out of activities performed by the participants in sub-group participant configurations. B. Methodology: Conversation Analysis (CA) The methodological approach used in the doctoral study was Conversation Analysis (CA). Unlike many social-scientific studies of social interaction that use research methodologies that elucidate what people say they do (e.g., interviews, focus groups, surveys), CA is a methodology that investigates what people actually do, with analysts examining the details of recordings of talk and other conduct of participants in naturally occurring interaction. Conversation analytic studies use naturalistic data, i.e., non-experimental data that wasn t set up for the purposes of the research and would have occurred without the researchers instigation (Have, 1999). Schegloff and Sacks (1973) argued that the most important orientation of recipients of talk-in-interaction at any one point in time for its understanding is Why that now? (p. 299), which may be broken down further to What is the speaker doing by that? (Schegloff, 1997, p. 506). In other words, what is the action embodied by the conduct, performed in that manner, in that particular sequential environment? (Schegloff, 1997). Thus, because this is the foremost orientation of participants to the talk, elucidating an answer to this question is also the key undertaking of analysts of the talk (Schegloff et al., 2002). Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications Journal, Number 12, CA is based on the premise that interaction is organized and orderly at all levels; no detail in the talk or conduct, no matter how small, can be excluded as unimportant and meaningless prior to analysis (Schegloff, 1987). CA studies have shown that social actions (e.g., questions, requests, offers, invitations) done through talk and other conduct in interaction are organized and orderly for the participants; if this was not the case then mutual intelligibility would be the exception rather than the rule that it is in normative interaction (Schegloff, 1987). C. Data collection methods The methodology of conversation analysis governs the choice and use of specific research methods to collect and analyse data. The data collection techniques of video and audio recordings of co-present conversation data (Have, 1999) were used in the doctoral study. The workshops were video recorded using a single video camera. The video camera was positioned at the back of the room, trained on the session leader, and operated by me. The workshops were also audio recorded using a digital audio recorder. D. Description of the workshop leaders and the workshops Participants in the study were three workshop leaders (i.e., two facilitators and one trainer) and the participants (i.e., group members and learners). The workshop leaders were all independent professional consultants who did facilitation, training, and other consulting work in organizations and beyond. They were diverse in regard to their ages, professional and educational backgrounds, and professional facilitation and consulting experience. The first workshop leader, Bev (who co-facilitated Workshop 1), was in her early fifties and had been working as a professional group facilitator for over fifteen years. The second workshop leader, Ann (who co-facilitated Workshop 1), was in her midforties and had been working as a professional facilitator with her own consultancy for nearly two years. The third workshop leader, Tim (who led Workshop 2), was in his early thirties and worked as a consultant for a consulting firm, a company he had worked at for over five years. Workshop 1 was a one-and-a-half-day facilitated workshop (i.e., an afternoon and a full work day, totalling approximately 7.5 hours of in-session recorded data) involving 32 employees from one of the three main groups of a Victorian state government organization in Australia. Bev had worked with the group on three previous occasions, and therefore was familiar with most of the members of the group. Ann, on the other hand, had never worked with the group before, and had been engaged by Bev after the client requested a co-facilitator to provide a fresh perspective. The aims of the workshop were two-fold: first, for the group members to reflect on where they are at individually, as a team, and as an organization; and second, for the team to commence planning for projects in the following year. Workshop 2 was a one-day training workshop (totalling approximately 5 hours of in-session recorded data) led solely by Tim. The learners were 19 middle managers from various offices (both regional and metropolitan, intra- and inter-state) of an Australian non-profit organization. The client organization had been an ongoing client of Tim s organization for the past several years. The purpose of the workshop was to help prepare the participants to facilitate staff feedback and action planning derived from an organizational culture survey that Tim was just finishing conducting with the organization. E. Data analysis Basic transcriptions were done of both workshops (i.e., of the talk produced in the whole group; sub group activities were not transcribed). Subsequent transcriptions of target activities identified for analysis were done in detail using a restricted set of the notational conventions developed by Jefferson (2004) and additional conventions as required (see Appendix A: Transcription Conventions for a list of the transcription conventions used in the examples in the sections below). Heritage and Clayman (2010) describe three broad research aims that have been pursued within institutional CA: 1) probing the institutionality of a form of interaction by demonstrating its distinctiveness from everyday conversation (and other forms of institutional interaction), 2) analysing how a particular institutional task in a form of institutional interaction is accomplished interactionally, and 3) analysing the extrainteractional causes or consequences of particular interactional practices. The doctoral study focussed on the first and third aims. In regard to the first aim, the transcribed data was examined with respect to asymmetry; specifically the asymmetry in the participation roles between the workshop leader (i.e., facilitator or trainer) and the workshop participants (i.e., group members or learners). In regard to the second aim, the study investigated how the institutional tasks of the leader giving instructions for an activity an
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