If you are a manager or leader, you will probably have found yourself in a facilitation role, trying to solve a problem or make a decision. Managing a group in open discussion can be quite intimidating, particularly if you are new to the role or have yet to develop the confidence to lead.
Here are 8 tips to help you improve you facilitation skills:
Prepare – As with most things, Proper Prior Planning Prevents a Poor Performance, so it is essential to think through what you are going to do and prepare! Have everything you need to achieve the aim of the session. If brain storming, have post-it notes, pens, boards and flip charts ready to go. If decision making, have a briefing pack for each person and perhaps give it to the group early so that everyone can be ready for the meeting. An agenda is also useful to scope and constrain the meeting. Some people are happy without an agenda, but others use it like a crutch to lead them to the next stage (and to see when the break is due!)
Initiate Discussion – This sets the tone for the entire meeting so pay attention here. Best to have a mix of humour and assertiveness so that people relax, but know that they are here to work. Start clearly and confidently, stating the aim and any outcome you are after, then the ground rules within which you want to work. It is useful to get agreement here as you want people to feel free to talk and have their views respected. Openness, respect and listening while other talk are often useful values to agree upon before starting.
Record Everything – The aim is to get the ideas and information out of individual heads and into the group consciousness. Sharing the ideas and information makes it more likely that the group can move towards their outcome. So it is essential to capture the information for current and future use. As the facilitator, it is important that you record comments faithfully. Don’t paraphrase as this can lose the intent of the original comment and also make that person feel as though you aren’t really listening. Reward involvement with thanks and good humour and keep the pace going, When it looks like the group are stalling, encourage a few more responses as this is often when the lateral thinking process kicks in. This is why coaches use silence. It forces the client to give that extra mental effort and move beyond a block.
Watch the Time – You have lots to do and all too often, not enough time to do the task justice. It is a difficult balance between getting value and getting through the work . Experience will give you some idea of how long tasks and events will take, but until you gain that experience, stick to an agenda.
Divert the personal attacks – Make it clear that contributions are to be respected in the Initiate Discussion part of the session. Acknowledge all contributions, even the negative ones and the down right stupid ones (Remember Sony! A personal stereo…it’ll never sell! )
With the negative comments or attacks, diffuse them by referring the person to the agreed rules and moving on. You want to encourage input not abuse behaviour.
Control the Conflicts – If we all think the same, then no-one is not thinking! Often some conflict can be creative. Passionate ideas and opposing views can clarify a point, highlight an opportunity or generate innovation. As facilitator however, you cannot allow someone to use the meeting for an airing of their personal issues or to make political gain for their own agenda. Listen to the input for a short period and then thank the person for that input and move the conversation on.
Summarize – After faithfully capturing the information, it can be useful to summarise, paraphrasing and gaining consensus on what the group has achieved or agreed. A recap and a summary are also good ways of getting back onto the topic after the conversation had gone ‘Off Piste’. Restating the aim for the meeting is a good way to initiate a summary. So is recapping the actions agreed. This highlights how far you have come and how far you still have to go to achieve your outcome!
Leave with an Action Plan – There is no point in all this effort unless you have an action plan that gives people tasks to complete and holds them accountable for those tasks. A final review will give you, the manager and the group visibility of actions agreed and reinforces the feeling of accountability that those with actions have to the group.
In part 2 of this article I will outline some additional techniques both verbal and non-verbal that you can use to support you facilitation and also tell you of some pitfalls to avoid.
Dare to Aspire