In 1981, Jim Rough was a consultant within Simpson Timber Company encouraging management to try a “Quality Circles program” in a sawmill as a way to improve people’s work-life, production levels and product quality. Union vs. management battling was ugly at the time, so management jumped at the prospect of having employees feel better about their work. They didn’t want to be involved themselves or to spend money on training, nor did they expect major changes to result. They just wanted him to make people feel better. This half-hearted endorsement eventually made the Employee Involvement Program exceedingly successful for employees, management, the union, and the owners, plus the process lasted for many years after he moved on.

Jim had been an ongoing student of creative thinking through the
Creative Problem-Solving Institute and of dialogue through the Guild for Psychological Studies. He wanted to use these tools to facilitate employees to identify and solve their own issues creatively. So, when the mill workers came into the room for their first meetings, rather than work on issues that concerned management, he encouraged them to choose issues important to them, no matter how difficult. At first they chose issues like “We hate the foreman. We want him fired.”

It seemed to Jim that even impossible issues like this could be solved if people could think creatively. He tried the various approaches of creative problem solving, but, in this emotionally charged setting, they didn’t work. He experimented with other processes, trusting people’s energy, and eventually discovered an approach that did work. He helped the group discover, for instance, that the real problem wasn’t the foreman but the low-trust environment. They all excitedly worked together to fix that.

Although this new problem was bigger than the one the group started with, the shift in perspective was empowering. Just by working together in a creative way productivity and quality shot up, and so did the level of trust throughout the mill. The foreman started appreciating them and they him. These workers changed their outlook and found they were talking to their families and friends differently. It was affecting their personal lives.

Jim assumed he was just “facilitating” but eventually discovered that this approach was unique. We now call it
“Dynamic Facilitation”. Interestingly he discovered that the process engendered a particular form of creative thinking that we now call “Choice-creating”, which resonated with others in the mill who weren’t in the meetings. This discovery later opened the door to the “Wisdom Council” as a new strategy for whole-system change.

Since 1990 Jim has been teaching “Dynamic Facilitation” in
seminars as a consultant. The practice continues to grow and impact lives, organizations, and communities. In 2005, Dynamic Facilitation Associates expanded to include a talented group of associates who train, facilitate, coach, and consult with the process of Dynamic Facilitation.