Facilitator says it's about Team Synergy

Interview with IdeaConnection Facilitator David Gleiser
Born and raised in Colombia, David Gleiser, a team facilitator, studied psychology at university and became a professional psychologist. He also achieved a master's degree in economics and worked on a PhD in experimental psychology which he didn't finish.

He was inclined toward academia and has taught thousands of students in several degree programs including psychology, administration, law, and political science. Over the years he has specialized in different ways of dealing with groups. Here he talks about his experience facilitating diverse teams as they tackled a wide range of different challenges.

photo of David GleiserWhat do you think qualifies you to be a facilitator?
My leitmotif is how to teach better, that is how to get a lot more learning going on and a lot less teaching. Usually teaching is centered round a teacher which is bad for learning. So at one point in my career I became a learning coach with a small consultancy operation in the US and this led me to become a better teacher because I was doing less teaching.

I discovered that if you get people to participate and to ask good questions and carry out a good discussion process then you can get these people to learn far better, and solve very complex problems. It is a matter of getting them to participate and getting them to realize that their questions are the crucial starting point.

What attracted you to IdeaConnection?
Basically because of the downturn I needed to do some work. So I started searching the Internet, and I tend to be an internationally focused person as I like to interact with people from other countries, cultures and perspectives, and the Internet is the place to do that. I found IdeaConnection and they invited me to facilitate a team. Our team consisted of a guy in Australia studying for a post doc in physics, another person who was a retired musician, and we also had a mathematician. They were very different types of people.

How important is it to have team members from different cultures and disciplines?
It can be very important. There are different types of challenges and some require innovation and one of the things with innovation is you have to break what is called in psychology "fixedness". Fixedness is the tendency to look at something from a very specific perspective and it doesn't allow you to see more than what you are already seeing. And innovation is about seeing things differently.

And so diversity is key. For example having a musician side by side with a physicist allows you to look at problems from a different perspective. It's also a possible origin of conflict and this is where a facilitator comes in. You have to work with these people to potentialize them to see new things beyond what they are already seeing as individuals. You have to construct a new vision to incorporate new perspectives. I find the IdeaConnection way of doing things very energizing.

Tell me about some of the challenges you have worked on.
There are many different types of challenges. Some look like technology challenges from hi–tech companies, most are chemically oriented, and many are social problems. There's a social problem in a part of the world that lacks clean drinking water, and we need to find an appropriate solution for people in that area to obtain clean drinking water on a reliable basis. Those are very energizing problems. On those occasions you know you are putting 4-5 people together to solve something that is priceless.

You have facilitated 20 challenges what is your success rate?
I have facilitated something like 20 challenges and of those we have received a decision from the seeker on four occasions; we are waiting for decisions from the seekers on 16 more. Out of those four we have a 50/50 success rate and have received the award for winning submissions on two occasions.

What is the most rewarding part of being a facilitator?
There is a breaking point in the process of most groups, and that is the point where they cease to be a group and become a team. That's where most of the synergy comes in. So when you feel that it is a breakthrough. It's not about individual contributions anymore, it's about team synergy and that's the most rewarding part, and it's where you start to see innovative solutions. One of the usual comments I receive after we have finished a challenge and submitted it is "when can we carry on with the good work?" and "where is the next challenge coming from?"

What does the financial reward for a winning solution mean to you?
When I get the check it's good to be able to pay the bills, and that's how most people feel. The good team members are usually people who are PhD students or post doctoral students or unemployed geniuses or retired geniuses. And when they see the check coming in it's good, because they can pay delayed bills or use the money to go for a nice holiday.

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