Intuitive facilitation and complexity

Sensing layers, limits, and leaps of logic.

April 26, 2024
5 min read
bees flying

This article was written by our contributor Dawna Jones, Intuitive facilitator, podcaster, author and organizational ecologist.

The root word of facilitation is the French facile, “make easy”. A facilitator’s role is to make it easy for diverse thinkers, holding their set of unique values and beliefs, ambitions, and temptations, to think through an issue and set the conditions to move through divergent thinking then converging on a shared understanding, decision, or action. The more complex the issue, the more advanced the skills and consciousness a facilitator requires. In the twenty or more years of experience facilitating and teaching facilitation skills, I have observed and experienced how complexity plays a role. It has upped my game considerably. Whether you apply facilitation to a task, to performing a role: manager, project leader, or a community leadership role, understanding how to work with layers of complexity pushes your personal growth journey to the edge. Growth is inevitable. Divergent thinking can feel messy yet catalyze advancement of leadership skills to sustain wellness while lowering stress levels.

Most of what creates results in an organization operates beneath the line of sight. Focus on what you see on the surface, you will get a superficial picture of what is going on. People’s behaviour might trigger emotions within you so clearing out the closet of wounds is necessary. As Mary O’Hare Devereaux noted in Navigating the Badlands Thriving in the Decade of Radical Transformation, “It is important for all leaders to smoke the monsters out of their closets, all their fears and inadequacies, early in the trek.” Any missed monsters will show up as emotional triggers either in you or in the group. In one organization, two successive executives committed fraud. The trigger was planning for the future. The pivot was to process the past wounds revealing staff had worked but not been paid. Without clearing the past, the future was meaningless.

The more complex the context, the more unpredictable, volatile, multi-layered and moving parts, volatility, interconnectivity, and interrelationship, the more courage and commitment to personal growth is required. Central to the growth of emotional intelligence and, by extension, intuitive intelligence, is the ability to read context and subtext in the dynamics. Doing so without judgment is a mastery-level practice.

If you listen only with your mental mind, perception is composed in black and white, discounting the shades of grey that characterize complex conditions and issues. Overwhelm will come fast and furious because the conscious mind has less capacity to process information compared to the subconscious. To give you an idea, the conscious mind’s speed of processing is, for instance, 50 bits of information in contrast to the capability of your subconscious at 50 million bits.

a car on the road
Conscious: 50 bits
a spaceship in a tunnel
Subconscious: 50 million bits

Working with complex issues as a facilitator requires that you shift how you listen and process information from reliance on your mental faculties to respecting the data picked up by your senses. It means being dialed into your sensory intelligence.

Sensory intelligence is not restricted to superheroes or facilitators. Dr. Annemarie Lombard defines senses as: “a neurological process by which the human brain takes in information from the environment. There’s a basic neurological response to any type of sensory stimulation within the environment. All of us do it every day. All day. It happens differently for all of us, but sensing is a day-to-day human behavior that all of us do.” (podcast interview)

Words represent the language, but the subconscious captures the emotional and social data, intent, and unspoken.

What’s that got to do with complexity, you ask?

The more you listen for the subtext in group interactions, sooner or later patterns become glaringly obvious. Watch for two kinds:

  1. Decision-making patterns derived from usually subconscious (and unconscious) beliefs. Beliefs are usually used to make sense out of past events consequently decisions based on beliefs recycle the past. Values ground decisions in a future orientation. Telling them apart is a listening skill. Processes, rewards, and punishments for risk-taking generate behavioral patterns. Patterns also express what motivates management. Is it a focus on maximizing shareholder value? Surviving. Or is it a more secure, purpose-driven vision and role in society? Thriving. One way to make sense of these patterns is through fractals described in The Biology of Belief by Dr. Bruce Lipton.

“French mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot recognized that the geometry of many of Nature’s objects revealed a similar pattern regardless of the scale it was examined on. Mandelbrot introduced the term “self-similar” to describe such objects. …. fractals exhibit a reiterated pattern of “structures” nested within one another. Each smaller structure is a miniature, but not necessarily an exact version of the larger form. Fractal mathematics emphasizes the relation between the patterns seen in the whole and the patterns seen in parts of that whole. For example, the pattern of twigs on a branch resembles the pattern of limbs branching off the trunk.”

A pattern that limited or supported a team’s or group’s goal signalled that there was another pattern behind it, likely the cultural beliefs (in all companies) or philosophical principles (in the more conscious companies).

2. Layers of complexity are expressed through behaviour patterns and are readily observable in interaction and communication. How risk is viewed and how mistakes are used also indicate subconscious patterns embedded in the system. Companies designed for complexity through how work gets done or their governance model are more responsive and adaptive to volatile conditions. Matt Black Systems, a company in the UK, iteratively redesigned its governance model arriving at a fractal model achieving a 500% increase in productivity over a fifteen-year period.

If you are facilitating an organization’s transformation, the ability to witness patterns embedded in the deep dynamics of the culture informs success or failure.

Working with complexity splits a facilitator’s attention between hearing words to sensing and perceiving subsurface patterns. Skills expand from listening to what is being said to perceiving what is not being said. Sensing meaning, cultural practices, unspoken fears, hopes, and emotional underpinnings are captured in the sensations of subtext. From a skills point of view, it means a higher level of somatic awareness and connection to the language of your intuition.

Emotional intelligence is directly informed by your sensory intelligence. In a non-linear fashion, both inform your intuitive responses and foresight, adeptly guiding decisions through expansive stages of leadership consciousness.

The complex issues and conditions we are immersed in today present a natural catalyst for a much higher level of mastery requiring more courage, commitment, and conscious choice. Bring high levels of compassion to yourself and those you work with. These are exciting times.


1. Lipton BH. In: The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles. Hay House, Inc.; 2014.

2. O’Hara-Devereaux M. Self Leadership: Taking the Hero’s Journey. In: Navigating the Badlands: Thriving in the Decade of Radical Transformation. Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint; 2004:91–91.

3. Gilliin, Murry and Frank LaPira, Australia Graduate Schoold of Entrepreneurship; Rollin McCraty, Ray Bradley & Mike Atkinson, Heart Math Institute; Pamela Sciclna,Faculty of Information& Communication Technologies, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia. Before Cognition: The Active Contribution of the Heart/Ans to Intuitive Decision Making as Measured on Repeat Entrepreneurs in the Cambridge Technopol.” 2007