Creative Facilitation in Innovation Management: Facilitator’s Role in Shaping Team Processes

Agata Ewa Wróbel

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesis

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The aim of this thesis is to investigate how is facilitation enacted in creative phases of the innovation process and to develop a theoretical understanding of its key aspects. The current literature on the topic has been, to a great extent, experience-based and practice-oriented, and thus the specific mechanisms and processes behind facilitation have not been previously explained. Further, due to a number of disparate descrip-tions, the conceptualisations of facilitator’s role often lack clarity and include many inconsistencies, posing challenges for both researchers and practitioners. In response to this gap, the main themes explored in this thesis are: facilitator’s neutrality, as a central feature of facilitation distinguishing it from other similar roles, the mechanisms behind facil-itation as a process, to provide a more in-depth understanding of the practice, as well as the influence of facilitation on teams during creative workshops within innovation, New Product Development (NPD) and design. These research topics are addressed through a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods within the three articles that constitute the core of this thesis. The qualitative research methods are prevailing be-cause of their suitability for theory building purposes and gaining a thorough understanding of the phenomenon under study, and include a single in-depth case study and a multiple case study combined with a protocol analysis of conversation patterns. The quantitative methods in-clude a repeated-measures experiment, conducted to test some elements of the framework proposed in the single case study. The findings con-firm previous research on facilitation as well as offer novel contribu-tions that extend the current literature and add to the development of the field. First, a new conceptualisation of neutrality in facilitation is proposed, which I term the ‘pro-active’ neutrality model, according to which facilitators are never entirely neutral but build a perception of neutrality over time by an active management of impartiality, equidis-tance and fairness across the three output dimensions: process, people and product (content). Importantly, while the criticality of neutrality in facilitation is acknowledged, it does not contradict the possibility of fa-cilitators occasionally contributing to the content, which might often be inspiring and beneficial for the team. Second, facilitator’s neutrality ex-pressed as low equidistance and high impartiality is shown to have a greater positive impact on perceived trustworthiness and cooperative behaviours of team members as the determinants of team trust, com-pared to the opposite approach. At the same time, the effects of facili-tator’s approach to neutrality on members’ trust to the facilitator and team potency were not significant. Third, the findings reveal a set of structures within facilitated creative workshops which are used by the facilitator to manage the process. A clear distribution of teamwork and taskwork between the facilitator and the team is displayed and the role of facilitator’s positive affect in transitions between the two is empha-sised. Overall, the thesis contributes substantially to extending the the-oretical knowledge on facilitation, primarily in the creative contexts of innovation and NPD, as well as offers a number of practical implica-tions. It makes a first step towards establishing a comprehensive facili-tation theory and supports the development of facilitation as a research field. Moreover, through the discussions of facilitation with respect to team processes and emergent states, it also adds to team research in general. Finally, by combining theories and concepts from different streams of literature, the findings can be considered rather universal and may be applied in other related fields such as mediation or leadership. From the practitioners’ perspective, the importance of neutrality in fa-cilitation as well as the awareness of facilitator’s impact on the team are highlighted. Professional facilitators are also advised to use specific workshop structures as well as positive affect to enhance the process, while organisational leaders and managers are encouraged to look at both internal and external facilitation as equally viable options.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationKgs. Lyngby
PublisherTechnical University of Denmark
Number of pages325
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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