Holacracy Community of Practice Archive, 2015-2019 Community Holacracy Web Site

Interrupting the Facilitator

I'm having some difficulty determining exactly the extent of Facilitator authority during meetings.  As Facilitator I am experiencing some circle members who interrupt to offer their opinion without direct invitation.

At times I believe this comes about because of a tendency from our circle members to bring vague Tensions and to ask for open advice, and then the group falls into a habit where we begin dialogue or a strategic nature.  

How to allow the organic process but not allow diversion into theorizing?

Additionally, at what point does forceful, repeated interruption by a circle member become so problematic that the structure is entirely broken?  Today I was interrupted so forcefully that I felt emotionally charged and I believe others did also.  

The scenario -

Circle member brought tension 'Rep Link', explaining that their subcircle was preparing to begin functioning within Holacracy and that an election would soon be needed to elect a Rep Link.  Member asked whether they had the authority to appoint a circle member in that sub-circle, and then *asked for advice from anyone present*.

I began to offer said advice with 'as I fill the role of Holacracy Study Coordinator I have input for you that you a lead link of a circle has the authority...' - at which point the forcible interruption occurred, and continued, and asked for intervention by @Secretary, who interrupted to 'allow' the interruption.

Frankly I do not even recall the content of what that other member then shared, but when they were finished speaking, I asked the original tension-bringing member if their tension had been met.

That individual said no, but that they would engage me offline (1-on-1) to get the information.

So, what happened there? How and when does a Facilitator allow such an entry, and if is to NOT be allowed, how to stop it without literally screaming?


8 Replies
David Locke


Was this in a tactical meeting or a governance meeting?


Keith Jarvis



In a tactical meeting, the Facilitator is here to ensure that all the agenda items are processed in the allotted time so as a Facilitator you will allow less or more discussion given the time lasting.

3 Questions to focus and process items very fast:

• What do you need?

• From what role are you speaking?

• What role are you engaging here?

If you don't have that framework, you can be sure to open the discussion, not being focused and it lasts hours and hours.

If the person can state a clear need, don't let go as a Facilitator, stick to it “What do you need?”, “What do you need?” and once the need is met (did you get what you need?), then close the discussion and take the next agenda item.

The Tactical Meeting is not a meeting to actually DO WORK, it is just here to triage tensions. If a tension requires more time and discussions, they can still schedule a special topic meeting but it is not the goal of the tactical meeting and the Facilitator has to hold the space. Tactical meetings are way more difficult to facilitate IMO because the process is less structured.


That sounds like a frustrating situation.

To "yes, and" Margaux's feedback, I've found it useful to force good habits around people being specific about what they need. For example, after the circle member described the Rep Link issue, immediately jump in (cutting other people off) and asking the member "So, what do you need?" Then remind them they can need five things: 1) get information, 2) share information, 3) ask a role take an action, 4) ask a role to take on a project, 5) record a tension for governance. Reinforcing these concepts in tactical will help build good habits around member expressing needs.

If they say they need to get or share information, one technique we use regularly to prevent conversation from spiraling out of control is to time-box the open discussion. Our normal time-box parameter is usually 2 or 3 minutes. The facilitator picks the time-box (depending on time and issues remaining) and starts a countdown timer. 

During these open discussions (#1 and #2), I'm listening for two things: 1) other people starting to present their own issues and 2) whether the conversation is not helping the issue. I'll interrupt the conversation if either of these occur. If the first occurs I'll say that sounds like another issue for the agenda and commit to coming back  to capture it. If the second occurs I'll ask the member: "Is this discussion getting you what you need?" If the answer is no, then "So, what do you need?"

Hope that helps.

Keith Jarvis

Thanks for the input, Margaux and Michael.

To Margaux's response - I believe that the troubling engagement was not with the 'tension bringer' but to the other circle member.  I think the 'tension bringer' had clearly stated what they wanted. 

To Michael's response - yes I agree and I work to remind tension bringers about their options.  I also like the idea about how to prevent 'out of control' conversation through a time-box.  I do practice checking in, when we're in 'open response to a request for information or advice' with the 'tension-bringer' with 'is this helping?' and 'would you like to continue?'.

To continue with that tangent - I do notice that sometimes then the individual will reply with a 'yeah, but...' or some other type of further specific engagement.  I'm thinking that while a little bit of that may not be harmful, that it's generally a sign that an offline meeting would be more efficient.

Any responses, though, to forceful interruption challenging a Facilitator?  If/when and how to respond?  I've been wondering if a 'perhaps you have a new tension about my facilitation, let's record that and then get back to <this person>'s tension' might be an approach.

Dien Kwik

Hi, Keith:

Adding my thoughts a little to this. I find it really tough to break old habits of "doing the work" right then and there at the tactical meeting, because it used to be like that, and people have this feeling that if it can be resolved now why wait. It took time to adjust, and a lot of cynical eye rolling towards the facilitator when we first started

Periodically at the start of a tactical meeting, I would remind everyone that i would interrupt a discussion that goes on for more than a minute and will jot down a next action for it.  This helps smooth out the process a little when I do interrupt.

When the tension bringer is satisfied, but someone still wants to continue the discussion, I would ask them if he/she would like to add the tension to the agenda so that we can have our fullest attention processing that at that point. If he/she says yes, then I'll ask the secretary to add the item and then move on.

Specifically about challenging the facilitator, I haven't experienced this, but I think I'd do what you did: ask the person to bring it as a separate tension anywhere, be it tactical or governance and let the process guide the resolution.

Fred Magovern

Some of the pointers in here are super helpful - feeling very grateful. Thanks guys.

Keith Jarvis

Thanks very much Dien.  I'm reminded of something Brian said at the Practitioner training - which I've quoted a number of times ... 'the Facilitator's job is to be more stubborn than the most stubborn participant...'

Your idea about a reminder up front is very helpful.  I've been cautioning our circle the last few sessions that they've been flirting into discussion but other than that discouragement I've not had a good plan.  Your idea to remind them of interruption coming is very useful.

AND - I did an interrupt yesterday during governance in 'clarifying questions' when a participant's question started of with 'would it be more useful to you if...' and I jumped RIGHT IN and said 'I'm sorry but it sounds like your about to try to convey information - you will have an opportunity to do so during reaction in just a moment. do you have a question to better understand the proposal as stated?' and the individual said 'oh. yeah. no I don't.