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FACILITATION SKILLS: We Need More Skilled Facilitators

Awhile back one of our clients needed to train employees who facilitate problem resolution sessions. We all made an assumption that the participants would be capable of basic facilitation:  opening a meeting, assigning roles, launching a brainstorming session, narrowing the focus, and guiding the group through to decision making. Boy, were we wrong. By the end of the day, it was clear that we needed to go back to the drawing board and provide the core competencies of facilitation for the entire group.

We really can’t assume that anyone has basic facilitation skills, although many people are put in the role of facilitating everything from staff meetings to kaizen events, from school board meetings to conflict resolution sessions. People find themselves in the position of facilitator with very little knowledge about how to set up and guide an effective meeting or lead a group to the desired result. They end up starting the meeting and then doing little else but waiting for the group to manage itself.

As a professional facilitator, there are some key things that I do that surprise people. For example, I would never start to facilitate a meeting without agreement on behavior ground rules. I call it the Help/Hinder List — what behaviors will help us function effectively and what behaviors will hinder us. This allows us to get everything from cell phones and Blackberries to interrupting and dominating on the list. The group agrees to the Help/Hinder before the meeting ever begins. When we run into behavior problems later on as the meeting heats up, it’s easy to reference the Help/Hinder to get the behavior back on track. Some people — particularly those who like the freedom to dominate or “do their own thing” — resist the development of ground rules for obvious reasons.

Another thing people do when facilitating is to try to do it all. What a mistake! We enlist three other people in the group to help with being the scribe, the time keeper, and the process observer. The scribe records the actions and decisions and makes sure deadlines and owners are assigned. The timekeeper provides time cues throughout the meeting based on the time allotments on the agenda. The process observer intervenes if the Help/Hinder behaviors become a problem. The roles are easy to learn and provide enormous support for the facilitator. Plus, now there are three more people committed to helping the meeting progress well.

I mentioned the agenda — another meeting tool that I wouldn’t dream of not having. On the agenda I include the desired outcome for every agenda item. Let’s say we’re going to discuss a problem with customer returns. Well, what is the desired outcome:  recommendations, decisions, or just brainstorming? We need to know before we begin our discussion. We also include the timeframe for the agenda item and the leader of the discussion. And the best thing is to send the agenda in advance of the meeting so that people can come prepared to work, instead of strolling into the meeting with no idea of what is expected of them.

Good facilitators are an enormous benefit to an organization, yet so little time and training is spent teaching managers, supervisors, and leaders how to facilitate well. Most professionals attend a total of 61 meetings per month and about 50% of those are considered a waste of time. Seventy-three percent of people admit to bringing other work to meetings because they can’t stand getting so little done. Imagine the benefits of having skilled facilitators who can drive action agendas. Experts suggest it will increase meeting productivity by 53%.

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Want to improve your meetings? New Directions has put together all the tools you will need to help you do just that in the Meeting Tool Kit. You may also be interested in our free meeting forms or a free article on facilitation.

  • Deb has taught all of these concepts in facilitation to our senior leadership team, and we are better for it. We are a small family run company full of a dynamic mix of feelers, sensors, thinkers, and intuitors and without good facilitation meetings here are quite a mess!

    My problem remains that I often end up being the facilitator for many groups and the main contributor of the topics for discussion. It is hard to be neutral in that sense. But as a strong feeler, I try my best as my intent is for consensus and everyone to be on board – so I act that role most often naturally.

    Deb is a professional facilitator, that is for sure. Able to be cool in all dynamics, command respect, attention, and focus. Watching her without even getting the training is enough to learn by.

  • Pretty cool post. I just stumbled upon your site and wanted to say
    that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way
    I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon!

  • Thanks for replying to the blog. Jared reinforces the need to train lots of facilitators within the team so we can “pass the baton” whenever we have to present or share information. When we try to do both, it’s the facilitation that suffers. Thanks Sarah for the feedback. Glad to have you with us.

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