The future of work: jobs of the heart and the head

I’ve been reading about the future of work lately. We’ve all heard how automation will see more ‘routine’ jobs replaced by machines as well as the rise of more specialised technology roles (like AI and Machine Learning, Big Data Specialists, App Developers and Scientists).

However, it is often overlooked that many of the jobs created in the next 10 years will rely on ‘soft skills’ such as creativity, critical thinking, handling change, leadership and the interpersonal skills of empathy and collaboration. In Australia, Deloitte suggests most of the jobs created between now and 2030 will be ‘knowledge worker’ jobs, including professional jobs in business services, health, education and engineering. And two-thirds of these jobs will be soft-skill intensive.[1] Those jobs that aren’t automated will emphasise ‘the head and the heart’ – humans are apparently still better at being humans. Phew.

How do we create the conditions for collaboration and creativity?

With this premium on soft skills such as creativity and collaboration how do we, as leaders, create the conditions for creativity and innovation to flourish? Well, reducing the predictable anxieties within the team would be a good start. When a group comes together a lot of the anxiety comes from group members’ concerns that their basic needs to both belong and to be valued may be under threat (remember Maslow?). If we all can acknowledge and deal with this anxiety it will greatly enhance the group’s ability to have productive conversations, to ‘discuss the things that matter’, to create and innovate.

The importance of recognising feelings – and the struggle in front of you if you don’t – is neatly summarised in Bob Dick’s FIDO Model[2] which sees dealing with feelings as a necessary pre-condition for effective discussions and decision making…

Feelings Information Decisions Outcomes
which are… which if… if these… are more likely to be achieved
Positive about self, outcome, process and othersSpecific, adequate, accurate, relevantHave the commitment of those affected, specify who will do what by when, and include monitoring and coordination
And not strongly negative about anythingAnd understood and accepted as valid by all
Allow the interchange of…Help those present to make more effective… Then the desired…
Bob Dick’s FIDO Model

Structure, role clarity and participatory processes that acknowledge our emotions and enable everyone to be heard go a long way towards creating the conditions for people to relax, collaborate and generate creative ideas.

P.S. I have a new Group Facilitation Skills Workshop coming up that you may like to check out. It will be available in Brisbane, Darwin, Sydney and Melbourne. More information here – https://www.matthewford.com.au/training/


[1] Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, The path to posterity: Why the future of work is human. 2019. Available online at https://www2.deloitte.com/au/en/pages/building-lucky-country/articles/path-prosperity-future-work.html

[2] Bob Dick, Helping Groups To Be Effective. Interchange, 1991.

Know the limits of the group format

…and stay focussed on the purpose of the session.

A mistake I made a few times in the early days of facilitating group sessions was to think we could take on some of the undercurrents and tensions within the group that were surfacing as the strategic issues were being discussed.

We’re group facilitators, not therapists or mediators. You need to be aware of the tensions in the group, and manage them, but not feel responsible for resolving them.

The group’s there for a purpose. Tension needs to be acknowledged, but the focus needs to stay on the work to be done.

This is an important issue, and one of the topics we will be discussing in the upcoming series of group facilitation skills workshops I will be running in different locations around Australia.

I explain more about the workshops here –

Upcoming training workshops

So what's your commitment to co-design?

Working with key stakeholders like staff and end-users to co-design new systems and services produces the most innovative response.

But what is the expectation from those participating in this co-design process? … and what is your commitment to them?

Are you merely consulting with them to get their input? Or are they equal partners, sharing power with you, signing off on the key decisions?

Tools such as the iap2 spectrum can be helpful here. Whilst designed specifically for community participation it is easily extrapolated to organisational settings. (For an older, more political model, you could also look at Sherry Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen’s Participation)

These tools help you to be clear on just how much power sharing is going on in the project. It’s obviously important to be up front about the level of power you are sharing with stakeholders and to deliver on your power-sharing commitment.

Free Resource – The Accidental Facilitator

Frustrated by wasting your time in unproductive disorganised meetings? To be effective, groups need to be well facilitated.

The Accidental Facilitator is a 75-minute training film that steps you through a five-point plan to develop your skills for designing and facilitating more productive group sessions that will enable groups to have the conversations that matter and make better decisions.

Intro video

Point 1. Know Yourself

It begins with you. Knowing yourself, managing your own emotions, being present and being authentic. Using non-defensive communication skills: facilitation relies heavily on the communication skills of the Facilitator.

Point 2. Plan and Prepare

Do your research on the group’s needs and formulate a basic process plan.

Point 3. Set the Climate

Establish a climate of positivity and professionalism.

Point 4. Lead the Process

Work your plan and facilitate the exchange of information.

Point 5. Intervene

Intervene where required to “protect” the process, manage conflict and keep the group on track.

The skills are demonstrated via short case studies. The film is accompanied by a Leader’s Guide, Participant’s Manual with worksheets, additional material and references for further reading.

You can download these materials below:

Note: The videos shown above are unlisted on YouTube. Please refrain from sharing these around the net. If you think that someone else may be interested please direct them to this page:

If you wish to watch the playlist on YouTube please use this link:


The Accidental Facilitator was developed by Matthew Ford, a Management Consultant based in Brisbane, Australia. Matthew has extensive experience designing processes and working with groups to exchange ideas, develop understanding and uncover solutions, across a range of organisational development activities including strategy development, program management, evaluation and training.

His approach emphasises and encourages stakeholder engagement. Matthew draws on a breadth of experience across the community, government and private sectors.

Previous roles include managerial positions in the human services sector, leading government teams to develop quality systems and lecturing in management and planning. This diverse background enables him to bring a range of responses to client’s particular circumstances and needs.

Matthew has a Bachelor of Arts (Psychology) and a Master of Business Administration from The University of Queensland; Certificate IV in Training and Assessment – TAA40104; Certified Administrator of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator; a Member of the Australasian Evaluation Society.

Being authentic

“The only question in life that matters is this – will we dare to be ourselves?”

Pablo Casals

Point 1 of the 5 Point Plan in The Accidental Facilitator focuses on the importance of knowing ourselves, being present and being authentic when working with the group. I think the best bit of advice I ever received when starting out doing group work and consulting was simply this – “If you are sincere they’ll give you a go”. He was right – groups respond positively if they decide that you are sincere. Conversely, people turn off and get cynical pretty quickly if they think the facilitator is faking it.

So, … it’s a bit of an elusive topic but I wanted to offer a few thoughts – and quote a few others who know more! Abraham Maslow said this –

“Discover your true identity. Strive to be honest in the sense of allowing your behaviour and speech to be a true and spontaneous expression of your feelings. Live in a way that expresses your real desires and characteristics. Know yourself. Authenticity is the reduction of phoniness toward the zero point.”

According to the philosopher Kierkegaard, the “authentic self” is the personally chosen self, as opposed to one’s public or “herd” identity. To be authentic is to recognise resolutely one’s own individuality and distinguish one’s own essential being-in-the-world from one’s public identity. So, to be authentic is, essentially, to be faithful to who you really are.

It’s pretty hard to be totally pure on this when working with a group. And it would probably be a bit indulgent and unhelpful to be declaring every moment of your experience of the group! You are after all there for the group – they are your client, it’s about them. However, openness and the exchange of thoughts and feelings about the task are important characteristics of effective groups. People take their cue from the facilitator – if you model openness and authenticity you encourage it, you give people permission to do the same. Groups need openness to have the conversations that really matter and make good decisions.

Self-awareness and Emotional Intelligence

Authenticity relies upon self-awareness: to be ourselves we need to know ourselves. And I think any mention of self-awareness leads inexorably to the broader challenge of Emotional Intelligence.

Daniel Goleman proposed five domains, or areas of ability, for emotional intelligence. They are all particularly important for the group facilitator –

  • Self-awareness – the ability to know one’s emotions. In particular, recognising a feeling as it happens.
  • Managing emotions – building on self-awareness … handling feelings so they are appropriate and adapting to changing circumstances.
  • Motivating oneself – marshalling emotions in the pursuit of a goal.
  • Recognising emotions in others – empathy, attuned to the social signals that indicate what others need or want.
  • Handling relationships – in particular, managing emotions in others.

There is a lot to discuss here, and I will expand on some of these topics in later posts, but for now I just want to make the point that we have to bring all of ourselves to the group facilitation role. To do that we need to know who we are and how we respond around other people, and stay true to self.

A couple of practical examples may help here –

Self-disclosure – where it is appropriate to the discussion, disclosing some aspect of your own experience can have a powerful positive effect on the group. You should obviously only disclose things about yourself that you are comfortable with. And only you can judge that. Self-disclosure should be done selectively and only occasionally – as discussed, the workshop is not about you.

Your self-disclosure may also be about your experience of the group, an observation or suggestion regarding what you think may be going on in the group. In this instance it is important that your feedback is offered constructively, offering a potentially useful insight into the group’s dynamics and not delivered as a criticism of the group.

If you don’t know, say so – don’t try to bluff your way through when you are unsure what to do. It’s always a good idea to check what the group thinks in these situations, and, if required, let the group know if you need a 5 minute break to review your process, maybe with one or two of the group members.

Receiving feedback from the group – when a member, or members of the group give you feedback on your facilitation or the process, strive to be as open and non-defensive as possible. This relates back to interpersonal skills and the importance of non-defensiveness in assertive communication.

To wrap this up I would say that it takes a whole lot of pressure off you in what is already a challenging task, if you don’t try to be anything other than yourself and don’t try to bluff your way through situations where you are not sure what to do.

Hope these thoughts are helpful. My next post builds on this topic to some extent. It will address the importance of good interpersonal skills – and emotional intelligence more generally – and the extension of interpersonal skills into the micro skills of group facilitation.