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Is Burnout Inevitable, while Facilitating Agile Projects?

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In an interesting thread on Group Facilitation list, Jerome Passmore has started a discussion on how to address and prevent facilitator burnout. Responders generally agreed that burnout is a reality, and that one key is reflection to identify when it is creeping up on you.

The main responsibility of facilitating an Agile project may be around the process the teams are using, but also encompasses other aspects of work such as team development, managing the culture change, administrative and technical tools, and working with other facilitators both directly and indirectly related to the project.

Mishkin Berteig in his article on process facilitators brings out the following skills that a facilitator is expected to have
  • Basic Agile Work administrative skills.
  • Obstacle removal.
  • Team dynamics and development.
  • Coaching individuals.
  • Organizational development.
  • Training groups and teams.
  • Promoting agile methods.
  • Strategic application of agile methods.
Is all this leading to overburdening of facilitators? Are they trying to do much more than they can possibly handle?

Many members on the group agreed to having faced burnout in some scenario or the other. Jo Nelson had his brush with burnout after 3 months of working continuously. This included weekends to absorb client struggles and deliver more than expected. Finally during a meeting when he wanted to get out of the chair he simply could not remember how to walk! Jan Haverkamp shared his story of burnout where after working for two years in Romania and then two years in Ukraine the breaking point came during a three-day strategy workshop where, after the talk, he cried alone.

The group seemed to agree that facilitators have a tough job at hand and they need to be pragmatic in managing themselves too. Juli Fellows suggested
I have learned I need to limit the number of days in a week that  I facilitate, especially if there is conflict in the group.  I've learned  that if I book more than three full days a week, I'm past what my heart and  energy want to do.
Another strategy was suggested by Jo Nelson
I spent as much time as I could carve out alone, where I didn't have to interact with anyone.  For me, the natural world is re-energizing, so I found places and times I could go for long, slow, wondering walks alone.  I read upbeat fiction, and did creative hand craft work that demanded no intellectual or verbal energy. I did lots of yoga and breathing exercises. I listened to the music that centres me.
John Powderly seems to have come out with an interesting way to deal with facilitation burnout, he added:
I no longer call myself a facilitator! Facilitation is now a skill and/or a philosophical basis for what I do, and less associated with my identity. Currently, I call myself "a strategic research, planning and
collaboration specialist", but this may still change as I continue to emerge.
Group members seemed to agree that, with all the primary and secondary tasks associated with facilitation, burnout was a reality. The difference lies in identifying when you are close to that stage and then taking corrective action immediately. Jo's closing remarks suggest that the key is in noticing when the facilitator is getting close to burnout.  This is the time to reflect on your core values, and try to evolve a strategy which keeps you energized and sane. The final step is to follow those strategies.

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Community comments

  • "On" nearly all the time

    by David Sims,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    It sounds a bit like being an entrepreneur or a real estate agent. Your customers and clients need you almost around the clock, and if you want to be great, you have to almost be "on" nearly all the time. Of course, entrepreneurs and real estate agents are paid on commission, so there's an incentive there that would be lacking in a facilitator.

  • Always On

    by Vikas Hazrati,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Your customers and clients need you almost around the clock, and if you want to be great, you have to almost be "on" nearly all the time.

    I think that is the key and in order to be there for the client and the team the facilitators tend to overwork and take on more work than what can be handled easily.
    I am not sure whether you would agree or not, in most situations whatever amount of work a facilitator tries to put in towards the end it is a thankless job, something which was implicitly expected from the facilitator.

  • Pay attention to your own feedback loop!

    by Rob Brown,

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    I detect my burnout approaching when my regular 1-1 team member reviews highlight non-healthy behaviour or negative attitude surfacing on my part. Then its time for a quick break (physical, emotional and mental) from things and reflection, a reminder of the future success I am working for, and/or other "carrot" in the form of a ideal holiday planning session or taking session :)

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