A Collaborative Strategy Grounded in Polynesian Values

Getting a Sense of Alignment


The facilitator’s first goal is to determine whether or not he feels sufficiently aligned with the initiative to accept the engagement.

The facilitator’s primary goal at this point is to determine whether or not he feels ready, willing, and able to accept the engagement. To make this determination, he has to feel that the initiative aligns with his values, his beliefs, and his philosophy.

Tusi also has to sense whether he can obtain the credibility he’ll need to play an influential role as a change agent. He wants to know that he will be treated by the sponsor with trust and respect and that he will be granted the independence to utilize his own style and approach. On a more spiritual level, Tusi is assessing whether there is enough potential for malu alii to develop.

To get a sense of the sponsor’s conduct and character, Tusi first learns about the purpose of the proposed assignment and makes a determination about its significance and essential goodness. Interactions with the sponsor’s representative allow him to assess the level of respect, consideration, and commitment that is likely to be forthcoming.

The production of written documents is a function of the sponsor’s preference. Tusi does not create a separate document that outlines expectations; for him, an oral agreement suffices.

By the end of this stage, both the facilitator and the sponsor will decide if the alignment is right and whether or not to engage.

I cannot conjure the spirit of collaboration if I am not spiritually connected.


This style of collaboration may not be taken seriously.
Conventional collaborative processes may consider spiritual dimensions as ‘touchy feely,’ effeminate, or unbecoming of the more masculine models of effective leadership and facilitation.

Deadlines and deliverables create pressure.
This model of collaboration unfolds organically, and it’s a challenge to conform to the pressures of deadlines and deliverables that are typical of more predictable strategies. The greater focus here is on strengthening human relationships and building cohesiveness … a process whose duration is hard to quantify.

There may be insufficient time to align.
Tensions may linger between individuals within the group if they have not had enough time to align.

People come to the collaboration with different worldviews.
It is not uncommon for sponsors and participants to bring to the collaboration a worldview that perceives people and problems as “Parts that make up the whole,” where the working premise for this type of collaboration is “The whole organizes the part.”

People interpret cultural protocols differently.
Cultural protocols and customs can be viewed as authentic and sincere … or devalued as touristy, entertaining and curious sideshows.

People perceive status differently.
A fundamental difference in the perception of status can arise in the course of collaborating. Some see status as ascribed (where a person is born into a position); others view status as something that is achieved (this is the concept of the self-made man).


The group can drift from its original goals.
By paying steady attention to the direction in which the discussion is going, the facilitator can help to refocus the group by reminding participants of their goals. There is a certain amount of adjustment that is expected and appropriate after the plan is created. If it seems necessary to re-invent the plan altogether, the facilitator begins by asking the group to reflect on its goals, and consider whether or not they are still valid. If so, the facilitator asks the group to develop a new plan, based on learning what went wrong before. If the goals are no longer perceived to be valid, the group will need help revising its basic direction.

The leader needs to deal with holdouts to group consensus.
As shared ideas emerge, if there are individual holdouts who are not willing to go along, the facilitator will make a judgment about whether the holdout is central or peripheral to the product. If the holdout is central, the group should spend more time on the issue. If the holdout is peripheral, the facilitator may ask the holdout(s) to meet offline at another time. He then works with the holdout(s) to clarify their issue (which is likely to have genuine value) and become better able to clarify these upon returning to the group’s central goals. Assisting people to reach clarity away from the meeting allows them to return with a clearer line of thought that can ultimately influence the other members’ thinking.

Tough issues need to be dealt with.
When a tough issue surfaces, the facilitator first tries to gain a sense of whether the issue is personal or whether it is related to substance. Personal issues have the potential to intensify over time and can seriously contaminate the process. For that reason, it is important to work with those issues as early as possible in ways that include calling a break and /or spending time on the side with that person (or persons). Rather than calling out an individual during a group session, the facilitator works to accommodate the person’s energy and, when the time is right, “move to the side” with that person.

The facilitator needs to recognize his influence on group’s decisions.
A facilitator has many opportunities to make process decisions that ultimately shape the content and quality of the group’s product. Recognizing this aspect of his authority, it is imperative to make sure the facilitator is in full alignment with the sponsor’s goals, and decisions are being made with an eye to delivering the best quality product. The more a facilitator believes in and feels committed to the underlying purpose and goals of the initiative, the less likely he will be to make process decisions based on expediency.

Documentation may not represent the spirit of the group.
Sometimes a person writes a summary document that puts a spin on the group’s discussion. This can occur regardless of whether or not a person intended to do so. The best way to mitigate this problem is to make sure documents, once written, are distributed back to group members, who are then expected to review and make comments on what was written. This step reaches completion when group members vote to accept the document with no further amendments.


Use small groups
Tusi’s preferred mode is to break the room into small groups, enabling multiple conversations to occur. When the small groups are working, Tusi floats around the room, engaging with each one at a time, and acting as a temporary facilitator or consultant to each group’s conversation. When the groups report back, Tusi works as a synthesizer, combining whatever was said in the small groups into a whole-group conversation on the topic at hand.

They might be stumbling, but at least they are all stumbling in the same direction.

Give small groups the bigger picture
As Tusi visits the small groups in the midst of their conversations, he makes inferences about how well the whole process is functioning. If he thinks that the group is having trouble, he will collect the concerns and bring them to the group as a whole. Alternatively, he might ask each group to define one or two key concerns and then ask the subgroups to educate one another in the large group.

Draw pictures
Tusi often draws pictures on flip charts — whether to illustrate someone’s perspective, add on to what is being said, or offer his own interpretation.

Tell stories
Tusi teaches through stories, since people often understand an idea more quickly when it is framed this way. It’s best to tell a story and then add the wisdom to it; this approach has more powerful impact on the listener.

Draw on traditional wisdom
Referencing traditional wisdom not only makes a point that is relevant to the current discussion, but also adds heft to support or reinforce the point.

Use metaphor
Tusi frequently uses metaphor, which levels the playing field between academics and non-academics.

Use humor
When communicating with metaphors or with stories, the more humorous, the more effective. When people laugh their spirit is much more open. Happy people are more productive.

Attend to creature comforts
While connecting with each small group, Tusi checks on their need for food and drink. To make sure their “creature comfort” needs are met, Tusi serves them himself. In this way, the faaaloalo continues. The experience of being served, and the visual of watching someone being served, becomes a reminder and reaffirmation of the values that were expressed at the hosting event.

Stay in touch between meetings
During the interim between meetings, Tusi will make an effort to maintain communication with each individual group member. This serves both to preserve the quality of the relationship, and to provide Tusi with updated information on what’s working, what’s not working, and what’s needed.

Related Examples

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