Tag Archives: results

Enhance your facilitation effectiveness

Avoid holding a pen

I received a number of comments about my article Why I don’t hold a pen: the perils of pen holding.  In the original article, I explored what I believe to be a crucial issue –facilitators are likely to be more effective if they do not carry a pen.

Some people felt I was being strangely brave while others expressed disbelief and bewilderment: how can you run a group session if you don’t use a pen?

As a result of these comments, I have had further thoughtsharpie-flip-chart-blues on what I believe to be an essential approach.

Before you continue reading – I hope – let’s be absolutely clear: I do not write anything, all recorded discussion is written by the participants and by the participants alone.

Organisational culture

Let’s take a step back and start with organisational culture.  The organisation, or organisations, that you work for – what is the prevailing culture?  Is it a culture in which information and knowledge are openly released, judgment and expertise freely shared, feedback encouraged?

Or, are these matters largely suppressed?

You will have experienced this suppression in most meetings.  The majority of meetings are chaired by the boss.  The boss frequently hogs the flipchart, holds a pen and dominates the airwaves.  The unspoken objective is control rather than release.  The end result: acquiescence triumphs over participation.

The facilitator who uses a pen, is likely to introduce these major blockages to group communication – perpetuating the elements of negative culture and hierarchical domination.

Consequently, the risk of a facilitated session run by a person who writes up contributions is that it will be no better than a normal meeting.

“What motivates you?”

Let me tell you of an experience of mine which helped me develop my approach to facilitation.

I was running a series of training courses for the managers of an IT company.

I gained the impression that one group of managers was disengaged at work and ineffective in their roles – they were certainly unresponsive in the training sessions.  In an attempt to stimulate their brains and generate discussion, I asked what motivated them.

There I was, gripping the flip and poised with pen.

“Getting a car,” was the first response.  I wrote ‘car’ on the flip chart.  “Yes,” said the second, “a posh car.”  I inserted ‘posh’.

“A BMW….”

“..or a Jag.”  (Laughter.)

They were getting silly.  It was too much for me.  I was frustrated that I could not fit ‘posh car’ into any motivational theory that I knew.  It was time to take control and explain what motivation really meant and how it applied to them.

“Right.  What you are really saying is ‘money’.  Because you can’t get an expensive car unless you have the money.”  So I wrote ‘money’ on the flip chart.

I think their contributions dried up a bit after that.

Lessons learned

Looking back, I feel ashamed of my behaviour.  But, as I moved from training into facilitation, this experience taught me four vital and related concepts in my approach.

First, you have to work within the culture of the organisation.  If you hold a pen, you are more likely to judge contributions, edit them, push the conversation the way you think it should be going.  Start where they areHBS team 2 at.  Remember: the participants are the experts, not you.

Second, avoid control and interference.  If you, as a facilitator, ask a question, you have to accept all the individual answers in their original form, not change the words nor interfere with the content.

Third, if I do not hold a pen, ownership remains firmly with the participants.  They then own every contribution and they own the output.

Fourth, it is a characteristic of many interventions by consultants, trainers and facilitators that they parachute in and then gallop off into the distance leaving the client unsupported and in a state of chaos.

This is less likely to happen if the client owns the contributions and the output – output to which all have contributed and to which all are committed.

Next week I will post a follow up: how I  generate  and manage contributions.  There – something to look forward to.

Facilitation : the benefits 2

Facilitation as a developmental exercise

 As a result of the participants’ analysis and discussion in a well facilitated assignment, actions are put in place that increase the overall effectiveness of both the individuals, their unit and the organisation as a whole.

This article explores the benefits of facilitation, but focuses on the development of the individuals – what new attitudes and behaviours the participants learn and will continue to use having participated in a facilitated event.

Trust

In a facilitated event, we are all working together within a strict structure towards goals that have been well defined.  Everyone knows why they are there, where they are in the process, how to contribute and what will happen next.

Certainty in the process creates trust – individuals are more open to the contributions others can make.  This encourages the development of ideas, the building of discussion and an atmosphere that encourages listening.

Listen

Individuals learn to listen better in the deepest sense of the word.  They realise that, if they want their point of view heard they, in turn, are expected to listen to the point of view of others.  You will see participants increasingly seeking out what others think.  They spend less effort in defending their own opinion or denigrating the others’ point of view or, even, personal attacks on others.

Individuals recognise quickly that all contributions will be accepted and none are discarded.  They respect the principle that they all have a right and an equal opportunity to express their ideas.

Your idea may not be pursued by the group, not because it is bad or wrong, but because the group agrees that other ideas take priority.  It’s the principle of “You don’t have to blow my candle out to make yours appear brighter.”

All participants have the opportunity to contribute in a way in which they feel comfortable because the event uses a variety of processes: small group, creativity, write on a card, plenary, controlled discussion, analysis, prioritise, plan.

It is a building process and all can see how every individual suggestion contributes to the end result.  This is a liberating experience – for most people, normal meetings (normal? ha!) are a fight for air time or to conduct assassination attempts.

Disagree but collaborate

You will have experienced many discussions that adopt the typical binary approach:

  • for/against
  • you/me
  • right/wrong
  • good/bad.

Views become increasingly polarised, stances entrenched.  People refuse to move, they concentrate on criticising the viewpoint of the other.  What started as a discussion, an exploration, has descended into irreconcilable differences and argument.

A facilitated event that engenders trust, listening and the acceptance of disagreement, leads to collaboration.  Participants work together towards a shared objective.  They build toward that and are prepared to acknowledge differences but seek similarities.

A well facilitated event is a model of good behaviour and demonstrates the creation of a basic human group such as a family, neighbourhood or team.

Topic leakage

Having a strict structure and a closely controlled process means participants are focused on one topic at a time.

One of the greatest faults with meetings is topic leakage – discussion heading away from the current topic and onto a separate issue.

Having a strong agenda, with clearly worded questions, clear objectives and a sharp facilitator, prevents this.  Experiencing this disciplined approach improves future meetings.  Participants become aware of the focus needed to participate in a satisfying event.

Analysis

If the process has certainty and focus, this aids analysis.  Each agenda item has a separate objective eg idea generation is separate from evaluation; “our strengths” separate from “what we are less effective at.”

You should expect some finger pointing, complaining and blaming – these are the norm in most organisations.  But the design of the event encourages people to focus on facts and analysis.

Participants appreciate that the end result will be action.  For this action to be effective, they need to analyse and agree exactly what is happening.

Confidence and responsibility

The facilitator builds the confidence of the individuals by accepting them for who they are and where they are.  All participants and all their contributions are valued.

Participants see how their ideas contribute to the identification of priority issues and then work on those.  They recognise that they have addressed the items that are the most important and will have the greatest impact on their effectiveness.

Finally, no one is telling the participants what to do; the facilitator is there to provide a structure and a process to help them to take the responsibility to create their own plans to enhance their effectiveness.

The focus is their live issues – not theory, not case studies, not role plays.  Yet, the participants have learned new attitudes and practised new behaviours that transfer directly to their work.

In short, they have created their own future.

Words and phrases to enhance your leadership effectiveness

  1. Absolutely is a great motivational word. It shows complete, total and utter support for and agreement with the other person.  Best used when introducing a further challenge such as when your subordinate says:  “I am proud that my team cut costs in the building of the new store.”  You respond: “Absolutely!  And both the cost and the time have to be cut even further in the building of the next store.”  This builds on success and exhorts your staff to an even higher level performance.
  1. So far When carefully chosen, this phrase indicates, simultaneously, optimism and caution.  “Our results have been very good” is soft and fuzzy.  Contrast that with: “Our results have been very good – so far.”  First, you communicate pleasure and approval; then darkly hint at greater challenges to be overcome.  Beware, you are intimating to your underlings, vigilance and greater effort will be needed.
  1. Going forward speaks for itself. If you don’t go forward, you stand still.  And standing still means only one thing – going backwards.  It’s self-explanatory, really.  This phrase shows that you are firmly focused on the future.  It is best used, in the same way as “so far”, at the end of a sentence.  For example:  “The generation of sales leads must be made more efficient, going forward.”  People get the main idea of what you are saying and expect a full stop.  They relax.  But no!  There is a sting in the tail.  This phrase adds impetus and urgency, and looks to a bright new future.
  1. Criticism is more a concept than a word but is a vital tool in the toolkit of an efficient manager. It should not be confused with “feedback” which is indulgent and superficial.  Criticism shows others where they are wrong.  It also shows that you have high standards to which those around you should aspire.
  1. Speaks for itself is a fine phrase which avoids the irritation of explaining matters in detail, especially figures, and saves a lot of time. Your colleagues will not want to appear ignorant, so will nod vigorously in agreement with you and to each other.  This allows you then to issue orders – well, put forward your proposals – based on the figures.
  1. Counter intuitive is a phrase that makes people sit up and really take notice. What you have proposed may sound wrong, lacking reason, even stupid to your colleagues.  You may be wrong, lacking reason and stupid but others will feel you have mystical powers, in touch with an alternative reality (they might be right about that).  Another advantage of using this phrase is that you don’t have to explain your reasoning.  If others look dubious, follow up with “I know, it sounds paradoxical.”   That will really convince them.
  1. Paradigm also has mystical properties that the simple word “pattern” fails to convey. Further, if you propose something counter intuitive, you may well be launching a paradigm shift (“pattern shift” has not got the same resonance, has it?)  Use of this phrase will convert people, who may hitherto have been simple colleagues, into ardent devotees going forward.
  1. Maximise indicates a man in charge, forceful and successful. Profit: maximise.  Working capital: maximise.  Capacity: maximise.  To achieve this maximisation, the effort of staff should be maximised.

The perpetrator of maximisation is the Maximise Man.  The end result of this maximisation is maximising the return to shareholders, which is obviously good.  There may be a temporary immiseration of the workforce, indeed, possibly 95% of the world’s population.  But, once all the maximise men and shareholders have accumulated enough wealth, this will trickle down to the benefit of everyone.  Eventually.  Well, that is the theory.

Use these simple words and phrases and you’ll get ahead of the game.  Maybe, you will become a Maximise Man.