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A strong facilitator should understand and appreciate the value of argumentation. She should understand the holarchial nature of business and people organized around a common cause. Critical thinking helps structure discussions so  groups can get more done, faster.

In 1962, when Thomas Watson (CEO of IBM) was helping IBM reach their pinnacle, he said:

“I firmly believe that any organization, in order to survive and achieve success, must have a sound set of beliefs on which it premises all its policies and actions.  I believe that the most important single factor in corporate success is faithful adherence to those beliefs.  To meet the challenges of changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself except those beliefs as it moves through corporate life.”

He asserted that beliefs for IBM included (for illustrative purposes only):

  1.  Respect the individual.
  2.  Provide the best customer service of any company in the world.
  3.  Drive for superiority in all things.

While “beliefs” serves as a synonym for values or guiding principles, when answered coherently, the four questions below drive consistent decision-making from “the board room to the boiler room” (METZ).

  • Why are we here?  (Mission)
  • Who are we?   (Guiding Principles)
  • Where are we going?   (Vision)
  • What are the units of measurement to guide our progress?  (Goals, Objectives, and Considerations)

Do not build this foundational material simply because MBA textbooks say so. Rather, they should be collaboratively built so that everyone in the organization can make appropriate trade-offs in daily decision-making.

Starting Points

Organizations, especially businesses, have developed elaborate processes around knowledge management. Accepted facts, presumptions, assumptions, and probabilities (listed in order of general acceptance) represent the most common spheres of knowledge. Without starting points, argumentation is not possible. Conversely, the greater the shared starting points, the easier it is to galvanize consensus. Starting points become foundations as support for further claims, normally claims that associated with change and a call to action.

Argumentation Relies on Facts, Presumptions, Assumptions, and Probabilities

Argumentation Relies on Facts, Presumptions, Assumptions, and Probabilities


Facts may be generally construed as observations, calculations, evidence, and other empirical knowledge derived from observation or experience over which there is no controversy. For example, the evening sun sets in the west. Chocolate truffles are more expensive dirt. Yet acceptable facts will change from group to group.


With lesser certainty than facts, presumptions provide the basis for many claims. For example, children are less able to care for themselves than adults. Presumptions are subject to challenge and may be overthrown. Some people even begin their arguments with presumptions they know to be false, simply to get the conversation going. Presumptions are relied upon heavily in legal actions and frequently require additional ‘burden of proof.’ A key value of group decision-making is the ability for groups to more thoroughly challenge and disrupt unsound presumptions by providing facts or observations of times and places when the presumptions are false.


While a presumption represents something you think is generally true, but not always true, an assumption is something believed to be true, with less certainty than a presumption. The difference can be subtle. When you have certain set ideas about some things, they are also presumptions. Keep in mind that presumptions are more authoritative than assumptions.

An excellent comparison from The Write Source by Liz Bureman follows:

“For example, since I just watched The Hunger Games for the first time (the original, not the sequel) , I presumed that I would enjoy it. I had never seen the movie before (I know, I know, I’m way behind the times), but I have read the books, and I enjoyed them. Since I enjoyed the books, the presumption that I would enjoy the movie was an easy one to make.

However, I assume that the actors read the books before starting work on the film. I have no idea if Jennifer Lawrence actually read the trilogy before taking on the role of Katniss, although I’m sure a Google search could clear that up, but right now, that is a pure assumption, since I have no proof or knowledge that would lead me to think that would be the case.”


With lesser certainty, probabilities are assembled with a combination of facts, presumptions, and assumptions about some future condition. Such beliefs are frequently held, whether clear or not, during most arguments. Probabilities may even be assigned percentages and are reflected when you hear words such as “Likely”, “Almost certainly”, “Probably”, and “Maybe”.


Since many business arguments involve probabilities, an effective facilitator needs to make the thinking visible behind modifiers such as “likely”. Discover the conditions under which the probability is increased or decreased to get a group more rapidly accept the algorithm leading to the probability. Seek to have them articulate a range of possibilities rather than fixed numbers. Consider capturing three placeholders such as best case, worst case, and most likely. Always use your critical thinking to examine the basis of facts, presumptions, assumptions, and probabilities and help the group understand what components may cause their arguments to fortify or to become frail.


Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

Our courses also provide an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, and 40 CDUs from IIBA, as well as 3.2 CEUs for other professions. (See individual class descriptions for details.)

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Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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