Grey Matters

We just get frustrated and impatient when people put forward ideas that, from our point of view, don’t seem rooted in practicality. Or we want to treat complex issues like simple ones and come to a quick conclusion, without a whole lot of discussion. Sometimes, the leader of the team (not the facilitator) has made a decision ahead of time and wants to steer the group to it, instead of considering all the available options.

This middle period of confusion, frustration, debate, and exploration is what Sam Kaner and his colleagues refer to as the Groan Zone. This is that grey, frustrating, agonizing area between using our divergent skills (generating) and our convergent skills (refining).


Divergent Thinking             The Grey Center          Convergent Thinking


Struggling to understand a wide range of foreign or opposing ideas isn’t a pleasant experience. Group members get short-tempered, repetitious, insensitive, and defensive, and then they think there is something wrong with their group instead of acknowledging the reality of the grey area. As a facilitator, you can offer a lot of support by preparing a group for the grey area. Describe it as a time when they will perhaps experience some discomfort, but it is part of the process and an aspect of group dynamics.

Group dynamics can make or break the efforts of a group. It’s important that the facilitator understand how misunderstanding, miscommunication, going off on tangents and missing the points are all normal, expectable aspects of problem-solving and decision making. The Grey Center is a direct consequence of the dynamics that exist within any group, and it needs to be encouraged in the sense that you want problems to be fully vetted so that they get understood. Working through the awkwardness is part of what leads to a collaborative decision and a sustainable agreement.