Wednesday 21 August 2019

Why businesses must not ignore key role of facilitator

'Some people need to see agendas days in advance to give them time to process. Others benefit from so-called time-boxing - in which an agenda very clearly defines how much time will be allocated to a facet of discussion around an issue' (stock photo)
'Some people need to see agendas days in advance to give them time to process. Others benefit from so-called time-boxing - in which an agenda very clearly defines how much time will be allocated to a facet of discussion around an issue' (stock photo)

Gina London

If you have ever managed a meeting, led a team project, workshop or brainstorming session, you, my dear reader, are a facilitator. And, like too many roles in a professional organisation that require deft communication skills, the position of facilitator is often one left to chance. You're expected to intuitively know how to guide the process and group of very different individuals, and meet the goal, for the listening session set before you, without first understanding or even being made aware that there are systems to help you be more successful.

Before we go any further, let me take a quick informal poll. How many of you have ever taken a course in 'facilitation'? Not many? Any? I thought so. (Of course, I say informal, because I couldn't actually see your responses!)

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So, while some of you may be turned off for the summer, I'd like to encourage the rest of you to turn on for some much-needed attention to the important role of facilitation.

And speaking of turning, for assistance on this topic, let's turn once again to Danish corporate facilitation expert Nanna Tolborg, who I recently had the pleasure of interviewing while we were both on holiday in Tuscany.

Tolborg and her colleagues run Promentum which, among other services, creates courses for companies on the processes of better facilitation. Like me, it focuses on helping people immediately be able to apply knowledge. "We teach people how to change their behaviours to get results," it says.

Here then are some important steps to help you become a more effective facilitator.

1. Understand what it means to be A Facilitator

No matter what your title, when you put on the facilitator hat, you are simply that. Tolborg explains it this way: "Don't stand as the specialist. Even if you're all in the same field, raise your foot from your subject matter expertise and step harder on the facilitator area. This is about your project group and getting them to play well together. All these people are putting their knowledge into solving a problem, and you can't facilitate if you are doing all the talking."

2. Create a shared vision

Tolborg told a story to me as a powerful illustration. A woman walked by three men bent over various sizes of marble. "What are you doing?" she asked the first. "I'm cutting stones," came the reply. "What are you doing?" she asked the second. "Yeah, I'm also a stone cutter," came the next flat response. But when asked the same question, the third man looked up brightly at the woman and exclaimed: "Me? I'm creating a cathedral!"

You have the opportunity of getting your team to simply implement a task - or of galvanising them around an aspirational outcome to improve people's lives. It's up to you to help create a shared vision that will excite and motivate.

3. Set Goals and Milestones

Along with crafting a higher vision that lifts people to more inspired work, your project also requires clearly establishing the criteria to attain the end goal. How are you going to get there? Lead your group in a discussion to collectively agree upon milestones and to precisely define what ultimate success will look like.

4. Understand your group

Different people communicate and respond in different ways to meetings, tasks, problems, and each other.

Seek to understand their varying preferences. For instance, as Tolborg points out, understanding preferences can impact how you set even that seemingly most basic piece of meeting material: the agenda.

Some people need to see agendas days in advance to give them time to process. Others benefit from so-called time-boxing - in which an agenda very clearly defines how much time will be allocated to a facet of discussion around an issue.

A project isn't all about discussion either, of course. Knowing the preferred problem-solving styles of your participants could lead you to make smaller time-boxes within a variety of approaches. "During this half-hour of working toward this outcome, first they're going to spend four minutes writing by themselves. Next, maybe we'll have them talk to their neighbour. Then they may expand to the fuller group," explains Tolborg.

The more you can plan and prepare to accommodate the individuals in your group, the more smoothly things will run.

5. Managing feedback

This last point probably deserves an entire column dedicated to it, as doing it properly involves plenty of steps and loops.

One of the starting points, however, which Tolborg underscores, is to make sure your participants are very clear.

"Speak about what you've observed with the consequence connected. Think of yourself as a critical friend. While you don't have to sugar-coat everything that may taste bitter, the feelings of the person involved in feedback are important. Understand where they are and what may have been difficult for them," she advises.

Establishing some ground rules and guidelines on how to give and receive feedback before you begin will certainly help. So, too, will learning the ground rules for being a facilitator. Voila.

Sunday Indo Business

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