Focus, live issues and output
“What’s the benefit?” is a common question. Why should we buy a particular product or service, why pursue one course of action in preference to another?
When people ask this question of facilitation there is a temptation to respond by describing the features. For example, in a well facilitated event, everyone contributes and the aim is action. And the reply comes back: “So what? Aren’t those the aims of every meeting?” (yes, but we accept those aims are rarely achieved).
A facilitated event is more than a well run meeting, it is an activity that is substantially different and far more effective.
So – what do you achieve in a well facilitated event that you do not get from any other process?
If you want to know – ask
To manage an organisation effectively, you need up to date and accurate information. And if you want that information about your organisation and its performance, to know exactly what is happening, it is best to ask those nearest to the situation.
This is central to facilitation: asking those nearest to the situation
This means that the focus is live issues. Let’s examine each of these two components: “focus” first and then “live issues.”
A well facilitated event is carefully planned with an overall aim and specific objectives. Each specific objective will be one agenda item. This means that participants know exactly the purpose of the agenda item that they are working on, how it fits with other agenda items and how each step moves them towards the ultimate output.
It’s like a series of gates that we all pass through. We can’t open a gate to proceed to the next agenda item until we have successfully completed the current item.
The agenda shows the participants when to work in small groups, when to work in plenary and the specific purpose of each of these two activities. They, all know at any one time what they are doing and why.
It is true that the aim of meetings is live issues but that is not generally apparent. Two common complaints are that meetings meander and many attendees struggle to get their voice heard. The result is that the real issues are not explored and, often, not even raised.
In contrast, a facilitated event is rooted in reality, participants identify exactly what is going on – or, going wrong.
It is not training, not theory and you are not being told what to do by a consultant who has just parachuted in. You address issues that you are facing at work – real disputes and disagreements, business questions, customer issues, organisational concerns and, usually, communication.
Working on live issues leads to two benefits: one hard and the other soft.
The hard benefit is that decision making is of a higher quality because it is rooted in reality. The plans that the participants create, hit the priority areas – those issues that will have the greatest impact on your effectiveness.
The soft benefit is a people benefit. Individuals feel valued. They have been asked; management and colleagues have listened. They have an individual sense of personal achievement and a collective sense of connection with their colleagues.
Facilitated events are a model of good behaviour. Barriers are removed because communication is opened up horizontally and vertically. Trust is built. Staff are more committed to overall plans and direction, confident that they are able to have a say in what happens.
The overall aim of a facilitated event is to make the individuals, their unit and the whole organisation more effective.
Participants arrive knowing that the end result will be plans that they are expected to create before they leave. This is made clear in the aims and the agenda which are published well before the event so everyone can prepare.
Whether the facilitated event is the company strategy, a project review, process redefinition, or a training requirements definition, the output is always an action plan. This action plan will have objectives, milestones, dates, owners, resources – everything complete to enhance effectiveness.
The process of an event gives every one the opportunity to contribute. Each single person has an opportunity to put forward their ideas and they see how those ideas join with the ideas of their colleagues.
Every contribution is accepted. Contributions are judged, by the group, against the aims of the event and how well they contribute to their effectiveness. It is an approach based on pragmatism and effectiveness, not on seniority or length of service or loudness of voice.
Further, a well facilitated event manages disagreement in a constructive way. Participants accept that there will be disagreement and acknowledge the right of others to hold a different point of view from themselves. This is deeply satisfying for a number of reasons.
Participants have a feeling that, not only have they created something, but they have created order out of chaos – a significant achievement. This leads to a strong connection between them, a sense of belonging. Ideas have been shared, they have been listened to and the end result is action that benefits all.
Because everyone has contributed all the way through, step by step, everyone is committed to the action. “So what?” you might ask again.
It means the plans are rooted in reality. It means the plans that have been agreed will be actioned, because those who are responsible for the execution of the plans are those who have created them.
Further, it means that the aims of the individuals, their unit and the whole organisation are aligned. You should expect a well facilitated event to deliver what it promises – everyone will be more effective.
From the beginning, the participants understood that they would have the opportunity to create their own future. And, they have done so.