The challenge in project teams

A project is by definition something unique, something new, something that has never been there before. A project is also teamwork, a social system consisting of specialists with experience and knowledge from different areas who are supposed to work together. Often the project participants don't even know each other at first. There are are people with very different needs, values, patterns, behavior and ways of working. Extroverted and introverted personalities, scientists and pragmatists, people in power and those in need of consensus, technology freaks, creative marketing people, and correct accountants, athletes, family people, gamers and cultural workers, etc. Everyone participates in the topic in different ways. Development projects in particular thrive on diversity, where the most varied of views and skills come together and create something new. A project tries to bring these people together, to pursue a common goal and to bring out the best in the team. This creates emergence, that is, to achieve more as a team than the sum of the individuals.

So it's no wonder that these difficult and confused situations occur regularly. The most diverse ideas and proposed solutions collide. Each project employee contributes differently, loudly and powerfully, subtle or rather passively. While individual opinions dominate, others perish. This already begins in the start-up phase of a project with the collection of requirements for a system, where conflicting goals arise, and excessive needs are to be covered. The result is a huge catalog of requirements or backlog that is inherently inconsistent. It then goes on to design, where various architectures, structures and processes are discussed, to implementation, in which everyone uses their own work techniques. Such situations often have to do with consensus building and decision-making processes, which are part of everyday project life.

In the case of special concerns, the team can also run into a stalemate situation, no longer know what to do and a certain swoon can spread. In order to end this difficult, time-consuming constellation, somebody in the the hierarchy, for example the project manager or the project steering committee will make a so-called “management decision” for a solution. This shortens it, but makes only a few happy and, above all, leaves people who see themselves as losers because they would have preferred a different solution. The losers experience a feeling of frustration that they are not being taken seriously, which in turn manifests itself in a significant loss of trust and, understandably, has a negative effect on motivation and thus the further course of the project. In terms of content, too, you run the risk that certain important aspects that have not yet come to light are no longer taken into account, and you therefore only decide on the second or third-best solution.

So how can the project handle such muddled situations and use the obviously desired diversity to develop good solutions that are supported by the entire team? These joint solutions are then also an important highlight of the project and encourage the project team to build on them and continue to work constructively in the team. Obviously, this is a creative process of a social system (project team). Ideally, this process is actively moderated.

I am of the opinion that these challenges are fundamentally part of a complex project, even characterize a project, and that sponsors, the project manager and the project team must be aware of them, accept them and approach them appropriately and with respect.

Dynamic facilitation as a moderation method for finding solutions

Two topics form the basis for a creative, common solution. Firstly, open, honest communication, where every project participant, regardless of position and rank, can actively contribute with all of their experience and competence. Second, a systemic consideration of the challenge, where piece by piece is put together like a puzzle until an overall view is formed and the superordinate relationships become obvious.

There are many methods and models of how solution finding can be moderated in a team. In the event of increasing conflicts (factual or personal), mediation or even an arbitration tribunal can be considered. It is actually contradictory to want to use a method made up of processes and structures for a creative process, since these processes and structures limit creativity. In a systemic context, open spaces, self-control and reflection are supportive so that social systems can constitute themselves autonomously and thus find a common solution. Now I've come across an exciting method that fits my systemic approach and makes a lot of promise. The moderation method is called ‘Dynamic Facilitation’ and was developed by Jim Rough in the USA in the late 1990s. A few years later it came to Europe and was particularly popular in German-speaking countries. In the book ‘Dynamic Facilitation’ by Rosa Zubizarreta (ISBN: 978-3-407-36686-3) the method is described in a simple and understandable way. In the following I briefly describe the process and the result of a moderation with Dynamic Facilitation.

The process of moderation

A moderation with Dynamic Facilitation is carried out in several sessions (usually 3-4) of 2-3 hours, depending on the topic. Between 5 and 20 people can take part, ideally from the different affected areas.

Before the sessions begin, the context and intentions are discussed with the sponsor and the procedure for the sessions is explained. Further bilateral meetings with the participants may follow, depending on the topic.

In the first phase of the session, after an introduction, each participant should explain their view of things, one at a time, and the others listen. He is given as much time as necessary. The moderator listens actively and notes the statements numbered on four lists (e.g. on flipcharts), one each for challenges, solutions, concerns and information. As soon as the first person has given his or her point of view in full, the moderator turns to the next person until everyone has finally been able to actively communicate. In this way the lists fill up enormously and everyone can communicate fully. Concerns or solutions that have been in the background up to now appear and thus result in an overall picture and show the "larger" context. In contrast to other moderation methods, possible solutions are welcome from the start and are noted on the appropriate list.

In the second phase of the session, the group discusses the knowledge gained, and the moderator adds further elements to the challenges, solutions, concerns and information. If specific joint measures are already in place, these are documented separately. The group then goes through a process in which similarities and differences (convergence - divergence) alternate. As soon as a common solution is available (mostly on a coarser level), you become more specific and find additional points for discussion. To get a better idea of ​​this, the author uses a nice example of a family who is planning vacation for the next summer. The first question is where is it going? The father wants to hike in the mountains, the mother something cultural and the daughter really just wants to go to the beach. Everyone explains their point of view and discusses. Once you have agreed on a destination where all needs can be covered more or less, is the next discussion about where the family stays, in a hotel, a holiday apartment, in a caravan or tent? Then the question of how to get there, plane, train or car? And so on, and more and more specific and concrete.

The final phase is about completing the specific, joint measures and discussing the next steps. If no joint measures have yet been put together, this will be discussed specifically.

The task of the moderator with this method is not to lead a process, but to ensure the "real" listening of the participants and thus enable the group to control itself. This will be supported by documenting the statements on the four lists. Accordingly, there are no rules of the game that could restrict the creativity of the participants.

The result of the moderation

The outcome of such a moderation session with dynamic facilitation is therefore not defined in advance. It is possible that the team is moving in a completely different direction than initially assumed because new, important findings appeared . It is therefore an experiment. Hence, a certain openness and trust in the method are necessary on the part of the client and the participants, which enables an exciting, creative discussion about difficult and confused situations. The aim is to develop solutions that are actively supported by everyone. It is therefore also important that the joint solutions developed from the meetings are also accepted and supported by the sponsor and management, which must be clarified in advance of the meeting.


Dynamic Facilitation is an exciting method to assure different views and optionions do not create conflicts, but to see them as something positive ("to welcome it") and to build them together constructively and creatively into the result, in line with diversity Thoughts. Away from problems, towards challenges and common solutions. The method actually hits the core of a project where a team is given the task of achieving something great together. And instead of the team sinking into complexity and breaking up because of it, it is strengthened with common results and can build on this constructively and celebrate great successes.

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