Effective Facilitation

Effective Facilitation – Interpersonal Radar

During risk assessment facilitation training sessions, people often ask me:  “Do I have what it takes to be a good facilitator?”  This is an important question, and it applies to managers or anyone who runs meetings and gives presentations.  The response is actually simple; for just a moment, throw out all the models, the facilitation techniques, and the psychological tests.  Knowing who you are, your strengths and weaknesses, and using them to your advantage is the key behind being an effective facilitator.

Learning to facilitate can be anxiety provoking, because it calls on so many internal and external faculties that must be used simultaneously.  Facilitating can be equated to a juggling act; one must listen to ideas being offered, animate quiet people, contain dominant participants, and think about what question should be asked next—all at the same time!


When asked, I offer this comprehensive definition of what it means to be an effective facilitator:  “A great facilitator weaves overriding strategies with specific facilitation tools, while monitoring the group process using interpersonal radar.”  “Fortunately, you don’t have to do it perfectly to do it well!”


The idea in this last sentence usually provokes a reaction.  Most people argue:  “If I’m going to the trouble of standing in front of a group of people, I need to do it perfectly!”  In fact, this sentiment often echoes inside the heads of new facilitators during the workshop process:  “You idiot!  Why did you ask them that question?” and “Oh no!  No one is talking!  What should I do?”  That mean little voice can be quite effective at letting us know when we are performing at a less than “perfect” standard.

Perfect vs. Effective


Perfection in facilitation isn’t necessarily the same thing as effective facilitation, however.  As a result, one of the first major factors in becoming an effective facilitator may simply be to learn how to ignore that negative voice, the voice that demands some vague standard of perfection in facilitation.  Effective facilitators develop techniques and strategies for making that inner voice work for them instead of against them.


No standardized test consistently determines who will or will not be an effective facilitator.  The answer lies in how you interact with people; your willingness to keep practicing, make mistakes, continue practicing; and your ability to trust yourself, as well as the people you are facilitating.  Taken together, proficiency in these areas will create effective facilitators.  What psychological and other inventories can help you with is achieving greater understanding of your personal facilitation style—your own unique approach to working with others, effectively infusing all of who you are into the facilitation.


But I’m Too Introverted to be a Good Facilitator!


For example, there are tests that can determine if you are more introverted or extroverted. A person who is introverted by nature is one who becomes energized through his or her own ideas.  The extroverted person, on the other hand, gains energy from interaction with other people.


Based on this simple distinction, it appears at first glance that the extroverted person would be the better facilitator.  After all, one of the ““golden rules” of facilitation is to demonstrate good interpersonal skills.  An extroverted person would tend to focus more on the group participants and listen more closely to what they have to say, instead of retreating inside themselves to their own thoughts.  Although this theory may be true, it has never been proven; there is no data to suggest that introverts can’t also be exceptional facilitators.


Indeed, a person who is too extroverted may not be a good listener at all.  They might make a good keynote speaker, but that requires a very different skills set (some of which are used in facilitation) in order to be successful.


The Unlikely Facilitator


One of the best facilitators I ever observed—

someone who originally thought she could never be a good facilitator—was a quiet, introverted young woman I will call “Carol.”  When facilitating, Carol would position herself between the flipchart easel and the group, a “cardinal sin” of facilitation.  She would ask the group a few intelligent, provocative questions to get them started and then simply record the discussion on the flipchart as the participants took off on her creative questions.


She would also sense when the discussion on a topic began to wane.  Politely, in a quiet voice, Carol would jump in and ask the next question, once again eliciting a round of responses from the group.  She would then turn around to the flipchart, writing with her back to the group, instead of maintaining eye contact with the participants.  Once again, Carol broke another important facilitation rule:  always maintain good eye contact. Interestingly, Carol’s tactic had the effect of forcing the group to talk to each other, which was needed at this particular point in the meeting.  As she wrote with her back to them,

Carol would continuously nod her head as they made pertinent points, occasionally turning to the group to interject a question or clarification.  She did this just often enough to let them know she was still present.  It was the combination of both turning her back while still maintaining contact in these other, subtle ways that made her facilitation so effective.


At the end of a ten-minute session, she turned away from the flipchart and back to the group, showing them what she had captured from their discussion.  The group was astounded at the amount of information she had collected in such a short period of time.  In addition, she had been so unobtrusive that after a while they almost forgot she was present during their discussion.


When the group is so involved in carrying out the task that the facilitator exists almost solely to capture their ideas, it represents facilitation at the highest level.  At these moments, the whole group experiences a synergy that feels energizing, highly creative, and purposeful.  To the facilitator, it feels effortless.



Interpersonal Radar


What we are witnessing in scenarios like this one is the ability of a person to take a potential liability or “imperfection” for facilitating—Carol’s introverted nature—and turn it around for everyone’s benefit.  In other words, Carol used her interpersonal radar to detect what would and wouldn’t work in the facilitation.  Her innate talent for creative thinking framed ideas and questions that kept the conversation on track.  She took advantage of her quiet, less social nature basically to stay out of the group’s way, maintain her neutrality, and act as a conduit between the group’s ideas and the flipchart.


There was yet a third obstacle that Carol used to her advantage.  Carol is very short in stature, and research suggests that short people command less power and authority in managing a group’s dynamics than their taller counterparts.  Once again Carol broke the “rules” using her height to her advantage.  Because she was so short, she was able to pull the flipchart very close to the group to hear them better in the slightly noisy room.  Later, when her proximity to the group was brought to their attention, group members either did not notice it; or if they did, they did not feel that it was obtrusive.  In fact, they felt a closer bond to her, because it seemed to balance her otherwise more distant nature.



The Effective Facilitator


Instead of trying to present herself as something she was not, Carol decided to use all of herself in the facilitation to as much advantage as possible.  She broke some rules, but because she trusted that her group had the knowledge to provide the needed information, she was able to latch onto the value of their ideas instead of her own.  This was not easy for her to do; it took a concerted effort to focus outward.  Because she focused on the group’s ideas, however, it became easier and easier as time went on.  By the end of the facilitation course, she was beginning to develop an effective facilitation style that was uniquely hers.


A week later, Carol’s director called me to express his surprise.  He had sent Carol to the course because he knew she was an excellent auditor, despite her reluctance toward presenting information to groups.  The director noted that since her return, Carol had co-facilitated a portion of a company-wide audit conference to rave reviews.  I last heard that she and other co-workers who attended the training were taking turns facilitating the department staff meetings to keep their skills fresh.

While it appears that this is an isolated example and a unique event, the fact is that it could hold true for any other facilitator.  Carol was bitten by what I call the “facilitation bug,” and she definitely isn’t the first.  Many technical professionals become quite dedicated and skilled at facilitation and begin applying its principles to many areas of their lives.


In my opinion, these people are effective because they are committed to developing and refining their facilitation skills.  They practice, practice, and practice.  Effective facilitators are also supportive co-facilitators, who do whatever they can to make their partners look good and make their partner’s job easier when they work together.


Effective facilitators are risk-takers, willing to stretch as they apply their facilitation skills and previous experience to a variety of group situations.  For example, a number of organizations that have been running facilitation workshops are beginning to facilitate all types of meetings in their organizations, often at higher levels.


Many facilitators find that as they broaden their endeavors, they need to increase their understanding of organizational culture and dynamics to handle the more challenging situations they encounter.  Facilitation requires practitioners to use all dimensions of their personalities.  As the situations become more challenging, growth must occur to meet new opportunities.


Anyone—introvert or extrovert—may have what it takes to be an effective facilitator.  It is more an issue of personal interest, dedication, and willingness to meet a substantial challenge.  It doesn’t always require extensive technology, though knowledge of technological options is always useful.  It doesn’t take an advanced degree.  Effective facilitators believe in the value of facilitating and, most importantly, they have fun with it


Originally published in the association magazine of the Institute of Internal Auditors.

© 2019 JPA-International

Eight Habits Of Highly Effective Audit Committee Boards

Tools to take your committee to the next level


Asking incisive questions and taking action on its findings. All members should be involved in setting the agenda. Meetings should be carefully planned so that priority business is acted upon in a timely manner. Decision-making processes need to be determined before a crisis occurs. Each committee needs to evaluate its unique needs when laying out its ground rules. Meetings should start and end with summaries so that all members have a common understanding of what has transpired and what the priorities are.

In the five years that have passed since the Sarbanes-Oxley Act gave audit committees greater responsibility for overseeing public companies’ accounting, financial reporting, internal controls, and audits, many of these corporate governance watchdogs have become quite adept at performing their expanded duties. Others, though, have not developed this expertise as rapidly as others. This article offers eight time-tested best practices for improving numerous aspects of audit committee performance, as well as insights from three seasoned CPAs who have led or served on the audit committees of many organizations.

1. Create and adhere to a written charter that identifies audit committee functions, authority and responsibilities, and the skills and experience its members must possess for the committee to discharge its duties and function effectively.

Without a strong written charter to guide it, an audit committee is unlikely to know where it’s going, much less how to get there. The charter should specify what skills and experience audit committee members need to help the group achieve its goals. At least one member should be a “financial expert,” as defined by SOX and the SEC . The charter also should specify frequency of meetings, topics to be covered, and the nature and frequency of the committee’s communication with the organization’s senior managers, as well as its internal and external auditors. One of the charter’s most important functions is its record of the various powers and authorities the committee must possess, independent of the organization’s senior management. The audit committee should be free to obtain the information it needs to assess adherence to rules, regulations, and the organization’s core values. An audit committee that has adequate authority to ask appropriate questions and get informative answers is in a better position to provide useful commentary and recommend necessary action.

This ensures the organization and management are responsive to stakeholders, whether they are shareholders in an SEC-registered corporation or bond-holders with a stake in the fiscal management of a municipal government agency. The SEC requires audit committees of listed companies to prepare an annual audit committee report. When applicable, this requirement should be written into the charter. Although an annual report may not be required for some organizations, it is good practice for a committee to resolve to prepare one. Other audit committee functions and powers laid out in its charter should include:

  • Hiring outside counsel and consultants whenever necessary,
  • Reviewing and concurring in the appointment, replacement, reassignment, or dismissal of the chief audit executive and internal and independent auditors,
  • Monitoring and ensuring the external audit partner in charge is rotated as required by regulations,
  • Ensuring external auditors do not provide nonaudit services prohibited by independence rules or those that require prior audit committee approval.

The charter also should give the audit committee the right to monitor officers’ expense accounts and use of corporate assets and consider the results of audits in these areas and to ensure the adequacy of the scope of and plan for internal and external audits, internal controls over mandatory financial reporting as well as earnings statements contained in press releases. In addition, the charter should codify the audit committee’s authority to periodically review the organization’s code of conduct for adequacy and recommend changes as necessary and its right and responsibility to review any complaints the organization receives about its accounting, internal controls, or financial reporting and monitor their resolution. This includes confidential, anonymous reports by employees and others regarding questionable accounting, auditing, or other matters.

Finally, it is essential for the committee to conduct an annual review of the charter’s adequacy in light of new business conditions, laws or regulations and recommend changes to the board of directors as necessary. The charter should clearly state the audit committee’s responsibility to periodically review its own effectiveness. The charter should require the committee to plan its agenda a year in advance, leaving room for unanticipated items to be added, and that certain standing topics be included every year. For example, the one standing agenda item could be to review and approve the chief audit executive’s annual plan.

Leadership Principles for Audit Committees

Run the audit committee in a professional manner. Members of the audit committee are role models. Shareholders, the board of directors, and senior management are watching you. The audit committee chairman establishes the “emotional tone” of the group. The audit committee chairman is especially responsible for preventing “groupthink” and “collusion.” Ask the hard questions to connect the dots. Make sure you know how (that is, by what procedures) different areas of the organization reached the end results and summaries before you. Regularly assess your performance.

2. Specify critical success factors as competencies audit committee members must possess for the committee to discharge its duties and function effectively.

First learn the business and its risks. Then become familiar with the accounting treatments unique to the business and prepare for all meetings. “It can be very challenging to read a 10-K three or four times, but it’s necessary,” says Paula Cholmondeley, CPA, who has been an audit committee chairwoman for three public companies—Ultralife Batteries, Albany International, and Denstply International—and one investment company, Gartmore Mutual Funds.

Cholmondeley strongly recommends that audit committee members spend time building relationships and diligently maintain their skepticism about issues and topics within their purview. One of her greatest concerns is that audit committee members stay abreast of the latest developments relating to accounting rules, legislation, industry, and the company. “We need two levels of knowledge,” she says. The general level is addressed by a lot of courses business schools offer audit committee members on how the committee should function.

“But it’s more difficult to keep up with specific accounting knowledge,” she says. “The key accounting policy reviews by my committees enable the companies and their management to educate us on a few issues a year.” She and her fellow committee members also study literature from auditors and attend presentations on new accounting pronouncements.

3. Identify committee core values that reflect those of the organization and establish written procedures that foster open communication, equitable dispute resolution, and active participation by all committee members.

Audit committees need to encourage mutual respect and cooperative interaction with auditors and the organization’s staff and senior management. According to Dennis H. Chookaszian, CPA, who serves on three audit committees and is chairman of the Financial Accounting Standards Advisory Council, “the chair should provide the appropriate ‘tone at the top’ to help instill a control orientation within the organization.” He says the chairman also should identify priorities for the entity’s audit team and oversee the evaluation of the personnel, quality, frequency, and scope of the entity’s financial and internal audit functions.

The chairman also must prepare the committee for significant challenges, whether relatively new, like understanding enterprise risk management and its corporate governance implications, or longstanding and growing, such as the struggle to build and retain a high-quality staff of financial professionals. Similar challenges and responses are in play in the government sector, says Colleen Waring, CPA, who was deputy city auditor in Austin, Texas, prior to her retirement at the end of 2006. In Austin, the city auditor is appointed by and reports to the city’s audit and finance committee, which the mayor chairs.

The city charter and the ordinance governing the city auditor’s role and responsibilities guide the committee’s actions. Waring says the city auditor meets regularly with individual committee members to hear their questions, comments and concerns.

4. Reserve the right to invite any group or individual to an audit committee meeting.

As the audit committee chairman of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Chookaszian has helped the committee establish good working relationships with the exchange’s CEO, CFO, chief audit executive, external auditors, and other members of the board of directors. “These connections are essential to the audit committee’s success,” he says.

The chairman must establish regular communications with these senior managers to obtain their views on what the audit committee should focus on and keep them apprised of audit committee activities. In his view, the closest relationship the chairman should have is with the head of internal audit. “And,” he emphasizes, “that position should be a direct report to the audit committee.”

Additionally, the head of internal audit should have an administrative reporting relationship to someone not involved in financial reporting, such as the general counsel. While Austin’s audit committee offers a “safe haven” to individuals it interviews in executive session, Waring says it still asks incisive questions, objectively evaluates answers, and takes whatever action is necessary to resolve issues within its purview.

5. Ensure all members actively participate in setting the committee agenda, and whenever possible, avoid conducting committee business between meetings.

When it comes to audit committee effectiveness, advance planning, members’ technical skills, and relations with senior management are of paramount importance. Audit committees should request that the organization’s chief audit executive and senior financial officer attend each meeting and address the committee as a whole.

Interactions between the committee and management should not be limited to written correspondence or interaction with only the audit committee chairman between meetings.

“It’s essential that the audit committee create a schedule of meetings for the coming year, including an agenda for each meeting,” Chookaszian says. The agenda should identify the highest priority items for each meeting, such as reviewing the company’s SEC form 10-K. He also strongly recommends holding quarterly meetings with the external auditor, the CEO, the CFO, and the head of internal audit. Further, he says, a good way to evaluate the audit committee’s performance is to conduct an annual confidential survey that elicits committee members’ views on the committee’s effectiveness.

As chairman, Chookaszian accepts responsibility for providing information to the committee and, as necessary, getting the CFO and internal audit chief’s help to do so. “The chair has to ensure that committee members have all the information they need on new issues and company activities,” he says. One way he delivers such information is by preparing for the audit committee and senior management an annual status report on the company’s financial and internal audit functions.

When meeting with the audit committees she chairs, Cholmondeley uses a checklist that tracks all the regulatory tasks that must be completed during the current year. “We also have an annual calendar with all the topics for each meeting in the year,” she says. The calendar has a section for fixed agenda items (for example, ethics, internal audit, SOX issues, executive sessions, and financial reports). It also has a section for meeting specific fixed items—usually items from the checklist, such as a review of the yearend auditor’s report. And there are sections on key accounting policy reviews and functional presentations.

Cholmondeley plans her audit committees’ agendas at the beginning of the year by identifying the topics to be covered. Just before each meeting she also requests topics from audit committee members and management, and then she adds to the original agenda new topics that require discussion.

AICPA Audit Committee Effectiveness Center Recognizing the need for increased support for audit committees, the AICPA created the Audit Committee Effectiveness Center, an online center available through the AICPA Web site at www.aicpa.org/audcommctr. The center was created in the public interest and includes the following key features:

The AICPA Audit Committee Toolkit was created to help guide audit committees. The Toolkit, which is available in versions for corporate, not-for-profit, and government entities, includes a variety of programs, checklists, matrices, and questionnaires designed to help the audit committees understand and execute their responsibilities. New tools are continually developed and released when available.

Over 40,000 copies of the print versions of the Toolkit are in circulation. Each tool in the Toolkit is available in the online center in various formats including Word, so users can download and customize it for use in their own organization for free—the AICPA asks only that users include a notation acknowledging the AICPA’s copyright on the tools. Print versions of the Toolkit can be purchased. This allows the AICPA to recover its production costs.

The Audit Committee Matching System is another key feature of the center. This is a free searchable database of AICPA members who are willing to serve on audit committees and boards of directors. While each party (candidate and searching organization) must perform its own due diligence on each other, the matching system is an ideal way to bring the CPA skill set to audit committees. More than 2,000 AICPA members are registered in the database, and searches are conducted regularly.

A third feature of the center is the E-Alert System created for visitors to the site to register for an e-mail notification of updates to the site, release of new tools, and other matters of interest to audit committee members. The E-Alerts are also a free service and available to AICPA members and non-members alike.

6. Formulate decision-making processes and procedures for resolving stalemates.

Committee members have to agree to some ground rules, which should relate back to the charter. All audit committees are unique, and so is each organization’s culture, says Cholmondeley. Procedures should reflect the specific needs of the individual committee and organization.

Objective criteria should be developed in advance for evaluating prospective external auditors or internal audit executives. This helps the committee overcome personal preferences and pressure from management when evaluating a particular audit firm, consultant, or job candidate.

Another inhibitor to timely decision making can be a lack of knowledge on particular issues facing the organization. Committees should obtain additional information from the organization whenever necessary to facilitate informed deliberation. “You have to learn the business,” Cholmondeley says. “That takes time and a willingness to read product literature, visit company facilities, and meet employees. But it’ll make you a more effective member of the audit committee.”

7. At the beginning of each meeting, review the previous meeting’s highlights.

Guiding principles and focus easily can be lost in the details of a complicated business. In addition to highlighting results from previous meetings, start by reviewing the company’s written organizational vision, core values, and critical success factors.

Continue referring to them as you review documents. Working with her colleagues on each audit committee she chairs, Cholmondeley measures the committees’ effectiveness in several ways. On a fundamental level, she reviews the checklist to see whether all the tasks were completed. “But more important,” she says, “is our collective sense of whether we’ve improved the organization over the past year. Is the finance team better able to deal with complex issues than it was a year ago? Have we improved our relationship with management? Do they consider our suggestions and act promptly on our requests?”

8. At the end of each meeting, summarize it.

After a meeting is over, each member should have a common understanding of key aspects of the meeting without referring to notes or minutes. For this purpose, summarize key decisions, actions to be taken, who will perform them and when, and the expected results.

Require each meeting attendee to specify what aspects of the meeting he or she felt were successful or helpful and what requires improvement. Discuss whether the organization’s vision and objectives are being fulfilled. Also committee members should encourage each other to organize and share in writing any thoughts they have following the meeting that would be helpful to the committee.

by John F. Morrow and Joan Pastor


 John F. Morrow, CPA, is the AICPA vice president–business, industry and government. His e-mail address is jmorrow@aicpa.org. Joan Pastor holds a Ph.D. in industrialorganizational psychology and clinical psychology and has consulted extensively for the AICPA on organizational and leadership issues. Her e-mail address is JPAjoan@aol.com. The authors wish to thank Robert Tie of the AICPA’s Communications team and Kayla Briggs of the Business, Industry and Government team for their assistance in preparing this articlen
 Joan Pastor, Ph.D is a clinical psychotherapist and organizational psychologist with both teen and adult clients around the world. For more information on Joan or on the services her company offers, please call (760) 945-9767, email to Joan@JPA-International.com, or write JPA International, Inc: 5054 Avenida de la Plata, Oceanside, CA 92057. Vist JPA International at www.jpa-international.com.


Conflict Resolution

The most needed skill is the ability to solve problems—especially people problems.

Today’s business environment is a greenhouse for conflict: a heterogeneous work force growing more diverse by the day, intense competition at home and abroad, an economy which could go either way. Add to this the highly diverse and dynamic field of internal auditing, which because of the very nature of the work, creates the overwhelming potential for conflict.

No matter how much you learn about conflict, no matter how excellent your skills become in handling it, no matter how great a master you are at even avoiding it, the truth is you’ll never get rid of conflict. Anytime you get two people together who think they’re even halfway intelligent, you’re bound to have some differences of opinion.

But here’s good news, too. Even if you can’t totally rid yourself of opposition from and between others, there is much that you can learn to do to manage these conflicts. We grow the most through learning how to work through our differences. We learn we can disagree with someone but still like him—or at least respect him. We see that the best friendships and the most creative working relationships are those that allow differences of opinion. The six steps below will increase your ability to work through differences with others in all areas of your life and restore the ability to be a team in the workplace and at home.


If there is one thing I have learned in my life, it is to try not to speak or to take action out of anger. That’s pretty difficult, because like many people, I am most encouraged to give a piece of my mind when I am hot under the collar. Unfortunately, my mind is definitely on hold when the emotions take over, and when reason finally returns, I invariably regret having given in to impulse.

Whenever possible, put distance and time between your reaction and action so that you can let sanity return to think things through. If there is a way to give both you and the other party time to cool off when tempers flare, do so. The best way to prepare yourself when you know you are going to meet with someone where emotions will be high is to do a “dump sheet.” Take a legal-size pad of paper and pen and find a place where you can be alone for five to ten minutes (that might be the hardest part). Then write down all your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, concerns, worries, anxieties, emotions, hates, biases, prejudices, nasty words—anything and everything that is on your mind and in your heart at the time. Do not censor anything. It is critical to get it all out on the paper.

Doing a “dump sheet” allows you to move from a subjective place to a position of objectivity. It allows you to see what is really bothering you and why, to see if you are making a mountain out of a molehill, and to see the best strategy you can take with the person to whom you will be talking. Once you have done your “dump sheet,” the best course of action will become clear to you.

Clarify the problem

When you do sit down to discuss differences, it will be to your advantage to state your case briefly, perhaps with documentation, and then ask for the other side of the story. Try as much as possible to suspend all feelings and judgments and give the other person a fair trial in your mind. At this stage, the goal is to get communication going, not to make any final decisions. If you have a person who is reluctant to open up, ask sincere, open-ended questions related to the situation. Good open-ended questions are, “What do you see the problem to be?” or “Your opinion is important: what do you think?” Then sit still and say nothing. Let there be silence. Eventually, they will realize they won’t get away with a mere “Yes,” “No,” or “I don’t know.”

Asking questions and being genuinely interested in the other person’s feelings about the situation are critical to getting to the root of a problem. But the single most powerful communication tool to use for reestablishing rapport and getting to the truth is to paraphrase. You may not agree with their point of view, but you are really trying to see it from their vantage point. That will encourage them to do the same.

Study after study shows that frequently summarizing what the other is saying when in conflict does more than any other communication skill to promote harmony and reestablish rapport. In fact, when extremely successful sales people were studied closely to see what made them different from the average salesperson, they found that the superior salesperson paraphrased and summarized an average of four times in a seven to eight minute conversation.

Seek areas of agreement

Once you have gotten all sides of the story, it is now time to see if you and the other party have any areas of agreement. One thing I have learned is to take a big sheet of paper (those legal-size pads really come in handy), put a dividing line down the middle, and together list the issues you agree on and those you don’t. If it is in your interest to promote agreement, then make sure to think of all the possible little things that you both agree on and write them down, encouraging the other person to do the same.

In the “Disagree” column, write down only the main issues. This process has the psychological effect of making the areas of agreement look greater and the areas of disagreement look smaller. It also helps you both to see whether you at least agree on what’s important; i.e., if you share common values.

Take responsibility

If the above three steps occur, taking ownership for how you might have contributed to the problem becomes the natural next step in the process. Most of the time, all parties involved in the discussion contributed to the problem in some small or large way. What do you do if the other person has a poor history of telling the truth or keeps throwing blame? It is important to assert to this person in a professional and clear tone of voice where you see his or her contribution to the problem. Then, take responsibility for your own portion. Finally, reiterate in summary form where you see his or her contribution.

If you have gotten this far in the communication process and still get nowhere, then it would be best to end the meeting and try again later. You can also try using a mediator. If the other side seems open to working with you, as soon as you see how you have contributed to the situation, own up. This will often take the other person off the defensive and increase the chances they will own up as well. I have learned if I own up even for something small, such as not communicating clearly enough the importance to me of being on time to staff meetings, the other party may be more willing to admit that they are late because staff meetings are a waste of time.

That will allow us to then look at how meetings are not working (and what both of us can do to make them more productive). Taking ownership often means allowing honesty to come to the surface and it is important not to take it personally. Remember, honesty is best for getting to the real difficulties and moving into problem-solving.

Become focused on results and ask, “So, what can we do to resolve this situation?”

Find solutions

Finding solutions becomes a lot easier once trust and agreement areas have been established. A critical component to reestablishing the ability to work together at this stage is to engage in some form of brainstorming. Unless you have the absolutely perfect solution already at hand, it is a wonderful skill to develop when building trust and camaraderie.

The goal in a conflict resolution session is to find a solution through a combination of both parties’ ideas; if everyone involved has contributed to the solution, it increases the chances that everyone will buy in and follow it. However, if you feel you must take a firmer guiding role, offer options. In our society, options make us feel we have a choice, even if they are over small issues. For example, if you and the other person have come to some agreement that involves you doing some follow-up work, you can say, “Would you like me to get back to you Thursday or Friday?” A simple option, but it increases the spirit of collaboration. Remember, when there have been difficulties, small efforts do make a difference. You can also use options to show you mean business. I have seen some fast changes in troublesome individuals who are always bothering everybody once they realize that one of the options is “no job.”

When a solution has been found, it is important to write it down, especially if this is a problem occurring in the workplace. Also do a final summary of what occurred in this meeting together. I am constantly amazed at the number of times people remember the whole situation completely differently from each other, let alone the details. A written record (even if just a few words) and a final mutual summary of what went on will do a lot to prevent problems later on.

An encouraging word

Now that I’ve given you all this great information, how would you like a strategy that will be much more fun, has long-term results, and will bypass most of the work above? Psychologists see it as one of the most powerful tools for shaping behavior.

What is this great invention? Positive reinforcement. To use positive reinforcement effectively requires a change in how you look at the other person. Try not to speak out of anger. Instead of focusing on the things he or she is doing wrong, start looking for the little things that are steps in the right direction. Then reinforce them. The reinforcement has to be something that will have impact and it should be applied as soon as possible after the positive action occurred. Praise, recognition, and being included in decision making usually have an even greater impact than money. Also, once you begin bestowing money, it’s hard to take it away.

Be creative in coming up with reinforcements. We have looked at the practical and the clever ways to make peace a little faster and easier with our colleagues and our friends. In the final analysis, the best strategies will only succeed when we can remain objective and check if our own perspective is correct. The biggest gift we can give when confronted with a troublesome situation is to keep pointing the finger at ourselves and asking not, “Who me?” but “How me?” Each time we do so, we become a little wiser. And if you ever find your ego in danger of becoming inflated, just think of what Napoleon once said to his troops as they prepared for battle. He said, “Men, there is someone wiser than each of us, and that is everyone!”


Case History: Med-center Partnership

Case History: Med-center Partnership


This project focused on bridging institutions to advance clinical and community-engaged collaboration, education and research.  Joan acted as chief facilitator and liaison to build a new partnership between MeHarry College and Vanderbilt University, to also include Metropolitan General Hospital.

The main focus was on enabling the partners to work effectively together, to resolve issues and generate productive ideas.  The mission was to coordinate a major medical initiative, creating a collaborative partnership that would result in a highly profitable medical research program between a consortium of universities, hospitals and government agencies.  The target demographic were poor, under-served populations.


Provided ongoing consulting and facilitation to Vanderbilt on two initiatives.

  • The first was focused on setting up and tracking the implementation of a diversity initiative at the VU Medical College (VUMC). This involved benchmarking what other academic medical colleges of equal prominence have been doing, and leading the Cultural Diversity Steering Committee.


  • The second project centered around assisting in the implementation of a formal alliance that has developed between VUMC, Meharry College and Metropolitan General Hospital, focusing on the integration of the various cultures, both organizational and ethnic.


Facilitation: Joan oversaw communications between VUMC and MeHarry and VUMC and Metropolitan General Hospital in forming an extraordinary pioneering alliance. Discussions were focused on bridging racial and cultural gaps between organizations with little understanding of each other or of ways to communicate and build trust and collaboration. She acted as the facilitator at each location as well as for all cross-functional meetings, overseeing the implementation of the complete project.

One challenge was to integrate the diverse cultural, ethnic and organizational environments associated with a white university and a historically black medical university in order to achieve a viable and valuable partnership.

Coaching and Consulting: Joan provided ongoing consulting and facilitation to Vanderbilt on three initiatives:

1) She set up and tracked implementation of the diversity initiative and led the Cultural Diversity Steering Committee.

2) She assisted in the implementation of a formal alliance developed between VUMC, MeHarry College, and Metropolitan General Hospital, focusing on the integration of cultures, both organizational and ethnic.

3) Early on, the scope broadened revealing the need for additional best practices research and assessment in diversity alliances in universities, a project that Joan developed and oversaw. She also reported back the results so that the Alliance committee could make the best decisions possible on how to work together.



The Alliance has become highly successful in leading and advancing inter-institutional efforts and it garnered $340 million+ in grants to date.

All organizations involved have grown in size and reputation. Many sub-alliances have developed and research for minority cultures has increased.

The focus continues to be on medical issues for under-served populations and the initiatives continue to expand since Joan initially set up the structure. For example, the Diabetes Improvement Project at MeHarry-Vanderbilt has been running since 2010. It consists of a consortium of hospitals and universities (including all those in the M-V partnership) across middle Tennessee with 7 systems serving over 106,000 uninsured or poorly insured people.

Case History: Guiding Airline to Smooth Skies

Case History: Guiding Airline to Smooth Skies

Objective: The airline industry was tasked by the Department of Transportation to develop a Code of Customer Service in 2000 due to the rising customer complaints and increasing safety concerns.

In order to be compliant with the new FAA/DOT requirements and to rebuild their organization to be more effective, Dr. Pastor worked with the leadership of this airline to create a comprehensive report and to provide actionable feedback.  The ultimate goal was to create a common organizational vision and to outline the steps ahead that were required to support change and achieve compliance.  In the process, it was ultimately necessary to rebuild the business infrastructure to achieve the goals.

*Due to the highly sensitive nature of this project, the name of the airline is withheld to protect the confidentiality of the client.


Joan worked with this airline to assess several of their core processes using employee and management facilitated workshops, interviews, on-site observations and audits.  The airline had recently suffered a series of flight delays as well as a devastating plane crash, so it was clear that they needed to assess the current processes and create new methods of operation, addressing customer service, safety and reputation issues.


Focus groups were used to gather and share information in the initial stages of this project.

  • Focus groups were set up, consisting of decision-makers and directors in all major areas of operations, including customer service, mechanical maintenance, air traffic controllers and communication/signage.
  • In an attempt to build trust and encourage collaboration, focus group participants were encouraged to share their perspectives, including their understanding of the current processes, the nature of their team’s roles and functions, obstacles to their performance and recommendations for process improvements.
  • Focus group participants were asked to jointly discuss the strategic environment, including their understanding of a common organizational vision. Subsequently, they discussed the progress their teams were making toward the achievement of these goals and they were also asked to identify the existing gaps.
  • Next, individual follow-up meetings were conducted to further explore some of the priority issues, opportunities and challenges that were raised in the focus groups.


The discovery and analytical process was structured in specific steps.

  • Outline the goal or vision for each team and for the larger organization.
  • Determine the status and discuss the progress each team had made toward achievement of this goal. “Where are you?”
  • Compare the two elements, goals vs. status, and identify the gaps. “What needs to happen?”
  • Conduct an assessment to guide the creation and implementation of a new plan, to achieve measurable results.


As a result of the information and insights gained during the meetings, interviews, exercises and assessments, Dr. Pastor was able to resolve core ongoing problems and implement needed changes in the management and organizational structure.




Although the group was initially reluctant to discuss their challenges, as the teams mistrusted each other, Dr. Pastor was able to eventually encourage the employees to open up and communicated.  As a result, the group began to work together.

  • According to the employees, much of the mistrust was generated by the existence of an organizational “cowboy culture”.
  • It was discovered that there was a need to build awareness and increase communication between teams, as teams were often unaware of the specific functions performed or challenges faced by their counterparts.
  • When Dr. Pastor introduced the teams to the nature of each other’s roles and job functions, they became more comfortable in working with other teams and formulating joint processes to address customer service and mechanical/safety problems.


Dr. Pastor led the groups in an effort to document the existing processes, in order to recommend changes to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

  • She discovered that there were no clear processes in place to guide their resolution of flight delays and other customer service issues. It was customary that each team and each individual handled the scenarios differently.
  • Working with the focus groups and the leaders, she helped to develop a plan to insure and guide organizational growth. This resulted in a rebuilding of the business infrastructure.


Since the performance appraisal system was also identified during the interviews as a key factor in driving critical employee mistakes, Dr. Pastor reviewed and modified the current system.

  • She created a plan and recommended implementation of a new performance appraisal metrics that solved this problem.
  • The new metrics eliminated incentives to take short-cuts in order to meet their own, or their supervisor’s, performance goals.



A major corporate restructuring and complete process re-engineering was mapped out for the leaders and decision-makers.  Dr. Pastor ultimately provided an extensive report and valuable feedback to the airline leadership.  She recommended ways to improve the processes, based upon feedback gathered from the focus groups, assessments and individual interviews. The focus groups highlighted key areas that required attention and improvement, including collaboration, communication, trust and performance metrics.  It was clear that the airline needed a plan in place to insure and guide their growth.


Ultimately, Dr. Pastor’s report provided the airline with a comprehensive plan to achieve compliance with Department of Transportation requirements.  The final report detailed actionable plans for rebuilding the business infrastructure. It outlined steps to collaborate, communicate, assess and to improve overall organizational performance.  Dr. Pastor outlined a viable and compliant strategy to effectively and efficiently address key customer service issues and to reduce safety concerns for this airline.  The resultant processes supported this goal by providing improved methods to communicate plane delays, streamline boarding processes and minimize safety challenges.