I just finished reading “Catherine the Great” by Robert K. Massie—a favourite author of mine. One of the things that made Catherine a great empress of the vast Russian Empire was her attempt to reform the legal code in 1767.

As a benevolent autocrat, she could have simply declared a new code, but she wanted to hear from the people. She drafted a guiding document and then brought together 564 delegates from every region, religion, rank and social class for a discussion. The delegates were to bring the needs, grievances and hopes of the people they represented to the table in order to craft a more just set of laws for the nation.

Catherine often sat behind a curtain and watched as the delegates argued, strutted, postured—and made no progress at all. There were power issues, of course, and language barriers. General mayhem ensued as everyone began to fight for their rights. These delegates met until early 1769 when a convenient war against Turkey drew Catherine’s attention and she dissolved the assembly.

Catherine’s intent was the right one, but she lacked a process and methodology for effectively gathering the wisdom from all the voices in the room and coming to some conclusions. That’s was a good facilitator or team of facilitators does—craft a careful plan of engagement, set out the questions to be answered, and then guide discussions to points of resolution and action.

I recently worked with a wonderful team of facilitators doing just that with a Canadian cancer taskforce. People from all over the country and world came together to draft a nation-wide treatment protocol and then regional action steps for addressing adolescent and young adult cancers.

With the help of a careful plan and targeted questions, these brilliant and passionate (and opinionated) researchers, doctors, care-givers and survivors left the conference with both clear action plans and enthusiasm for the tasks that lie ahead.

Catherine’s assembly left Moscow for war.