It’s no secret that we are spending more time in meetings than ever before.
Recent data has indicated that meetings have increased in length and frequency over the past 50 years, so much so that executives are spending an average of 23 hours a week in them. (HBR, 2017) This is because, as a collective business environment, we are becoming required to solve increasingly complex organisational challenges whilst still being more productive, efficient and successful. However, often these meetings result in unproductivity and belief that the time could be better spent elsewhere. The primary differentiating factor for determining the success of a meeting is the effectiveness of the facilitator, and their ability to ensure that the people involved achieve the desired outcome.
Facilitation is an essential skill for leaders that can be acquired and developed over time. The primary purpose of a facilitator is to shape and guide the process of working together so that the team meets its goals. Whilst there may be agendas and certain topics to cover over a meeting, it is the responsibility of the facilitator to concentrate on the process of moving through the agenda and maintaining an effective environment. According to Community Tool Box (2018), a facilitator has three basic principles:
- A facilitator is a guide to help people move through a process together, not the seat of wisdom and knowledge.
- Facilitation focuses on how people participate in the process of learning or planning
- A facilitator is neutral
TMS believes that an effective facilitator is someone who is attuned to people – who can read people’s mood and body language and who can engage all participants. Our facilitators challenge the group’s view through inquiry, to clarify and test group assumptions against common sense, logic and business knowledge.
But what does this look like in practice?
Creating an environment that is conducive to collaboration is key to productive discussion and problem-solving. It falls to the facilitator to ensure all participants feel safe in contributing their views, have the opportunity to do so, and are heard. This is all about managing the dynamics and relationships of those involved in the meeting. An experienced facilitator will draw on a diverse range of tools and techniques to manage the dynamics of a group and meet their unique needs. Among these are:
- Check-Ins: This involves engaging participants in discussions with their colleagues to “check-in” on how they are feeling generally, about participating in the workshop, and about any pertinent issues or events occurring for the organisation. For example, “What is your biggest priority at the moment?”. This assists participants to connect socially and understand differing perspectives in the room.
- Expectation Setting: Inviting participants to share their expectations for the workshop, including what they wish to get out of the session, their expectations of each other, and expectations for the role and input of facilitators. For example, “What are you hoping to get out of the session? “Facilitators also communicate their expectations of the participants at this time. Setting expectations is important for productive discussion, as it creates boundaries and norms for the group to adhere to.
- Pacing Out Objections: This involves a process of calling and managing potential or communicated objections to workshop objectives or specific information communicated during a workshop. The process is designed to build credibility, rapport and to help overcome resistance to workshop participation. For example, “Is everyone comfortable with the workshop outline?”
- Energisers: Using ice breakers and energising activities creates interest and engagement. This stimulates group participation, allows participants to get to know each other better, increases energy levels, and inspires enthusiasm for learning and discussion. For example, “In pairs, try to find the most things you have in common”
- Questioning Techniques: Utilising a range of challenging and thought-provoking questions is key to influence thinking and creating momentum in the discussion. Powerful, well-timed questions enable participants to connect ideas, identify synergies, experience “light bulb” moments, and engage in deep reflection and learning. For example, “How could we consider the situation from a third perspective (i.e. a bird’s eye view)?”
- Experiential Learning Activities: Experiential learning activities engage participants in activities that provide valuable lessons and insights into behaviours and ways of working. These activities are used to assist participants to work through practical suggestions for how improvements can be made back in the work environment. For example, “What are specific ways you can apply this concept to your work environment?”
- Visual Activities: Utilising a range of visual activities, including the use of photographs, images and physical objects, can help participants elicit and articulate a range of thoughts, emotions, ideas and perspectives. These activities are often memorable because they engage multiple sense. For example, showing a humorous video to create a positive learning environment when explaining a concept.
- Story-Telling: Story telling is a technique used to help communicate context and emotion, and can help by providing a practical example of the application of knowledge, skills and abilities discussed in workshop settings. Stories capture people’s attention and can be a form of educational entertainment to maintain participant engagement. For example, opening up about a challenging time in your professional life, and passing on the learnings or reflections to the wider group.
- Action Planning: Using a range of structured frameworks and action planning activities assists groups to identify realistic and achievable actions that can be implemented immediately after workshop participation. This ensures that learning, ideas, or solutions are transferred back to the workplace. For example, encouraging participants to develop stop/start/continue actions at the conclusion of the workshop.
Applying techniques, such as the above, effectively will enable the facilitator to drive knowledge sharing, a more focused team, fuller participation, and a collective agreement for the outcomes of delivery.
If you would like to increase your leadership and facilitation capabilities or require a professional facilitator for your meeting, contact TMS Consulting at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.