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EP: 52 – The Art & Science of Facilitation with Marsha Acher

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Marsha Acker Headshot

Marsha Acker is a professional facilitator and executive coach with 25 years of experience. She is the founder and CEO of TeamCatapult, where she uses systems thinking, structural dynamics, dialogue, and agility to help teams collaborate and align with  greater clarity, purpose, and vision. Marsha is also the author for an upcoming book called; the Art & Science of Facilitation. Marsha lives in the USA and works globally.

Show Notes

Podcast episode summary:  In this episode Marsha shared how she bridges the use of Systems Thinking, Structural Dynamics, Dialogue and Agility in her work with teams. We explored her thinking on Facilitation and the 5 core beliefs she holds about Facilitation that comprise her stance. We talked about collaboration theatre and the work it takes to get a true collaboration. Marsha is a huge advocate for Facilitation and Team Coaching and she shared her definition between both disciplines. She left our conversation reminding us of the art of conversation & how like Margaret Wheatly the art is often undervalued for real & lasting change.


Points made through the episode:

  • Marsha has two degrees in software engineering and she has made her own journey from the very technical world to the world of Leadership
  • She is still conscious about building the gap between developers and users of content and that informs her work with teams in a systemic context
  • Systems Thinking. Dialogue, Structural Dynamics and Agile is the thinking she uses to inform her approach to client engagements
  • Dialogue and Structural Dynamics enable to movement towards wanting agile and systems sight.
  • Many teams that she works with notice the ground hog or mini groundhog conversations with which they are engaged. Dialogue principles and structural dynamics often provide the gateway to true collaboration
  • Many ways that Leaders unwittingly sabotage collaboration. She calls this collaboration theatre. Wanting difference but acting in similar ways.
  • Oppose for example is one of the moves you can make in structural dynamics and is part of healthy dialogue. Many teams avoid the discomfort of oppose or are primed not to use it. This makes for lopsided conversations and often poorly thought through conversations or ideas for decision making.
  • Marsha’s book is really about the stance Facilitators take in the room. There are five beliefs that Marsha explains & expands in her book.
  • So much of facilitation is an inside game. A good facilitator gets very familiar and comfortable with the 5 beliefs inherent in facilitation
  • Marsha claims that 21st century leaders need to become artful facilitators and coaches of teams
  • Our distributed nature of work, the networked societies in which we live mean there is a lot more complexity of which to make sense. Facilitation by leaders allows for differing voices, inquiry, innovation and collaboration
  • We have to disrupt the narrative about what it means to be a leader. Leadership of course still has a value it is just operated in a different way.
  • Marsha is invited into team systems when teams want to “up their game”, are high performing and want to continue on the same trajectory, have a stuck challenge, are having ground hog day conversation and require support to shift their patterns and where organisations are moving to an approach where more facilitation and coaching is required of Leaders
  • Marsha shared her distinction between Team Coaching and Facilitation.
  • Team Coaches can often get tripped up between the use of both or either.
  • Marsha stressed the importance of upfront conversations with teams, speaking to all of the voices or members of the team and contracting well.
  • Supervision is important to be able to unravel the complexity often met on teams
  • Team Coaches can have their own blind spots/agendas/preferences and biases that can get in the way of pure team coaching
  • Marsha now values the notion of emergence & innovation in the moment where previously she might have preferred neat team designed approaches. Important to be able to rely on support mechanisms for the many issues that can present on teams
  • Important to remember that teams are generative, creative and resourceful and even in the greatest of perturbance can find their own answers. Teams have what they need already.
  • Marsha reminded us of Margaret Wheatleys work and her book “Turning towards each other. Like Margaret, Marsha believes that human conversation as an ancient art has the power to cultivate change.
  • We can as leaders come back to the beauty of connection, to value collaboration and authenticity as well as vulnerability and still be leaderful.
  • Being vulnerable and Leaderful are not mutually exclusive concepts.


Resources: the following include the resources we alluded to over the course of our conversation

  2. M,2020, The Art of Facilitation: How to lead effective collaborations with Agile Teams. First Edition, Free 1st chapter can be downloaded on Marsh’s website
  3. M. 2002, Turning to One Another
  4. B; Transforming System Blindness into system sight U-tube clip
  5. F. 2014, Reinventing Organisations

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