Tag Archives: teams

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.

Facilitation : the benefits 1

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.”

Focus

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.

Live issues

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.

Output

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.

Why don’t team members speak up

Are you concerned that team members do not speak up during discussions?

As individuals, they are bright, forthcoming and have plenty to contribute.  At the coffee machine, discussion is animated and flows swiftly.  Yet, when you all troop into a meeting, the flow of dialogue immediately dries up and energy evaporates.

Then, as soon as the individuals get out of the door, they are reanimated and have plenty to say.  Why has lethargy supplanted vitality?  Here are four possible reasons:

  • the boss
  • perception of the expertise of others
  • lack of confidence
  • premature conformity.

1.  The boss

It feels natural for the boss to maintain their role of boss in a meeting – they call the meeting, chair it, sit in a prominent position, make decisions.

But, a boss-centric meeting encourages team members to think: “If you are the boss, then you must know all the answers.  Or, you think you do.  The easiest and safest thing is for me to keep quiet.  You decide, I will follow.”

The boss gets no feedback so cannot update their perception of the world.  Discussion is limited and no new ideas are floated.

This is a self-reinforcing situation, but you can break into the circle.

First, ensure that everyone understands what the meeting and each agenda item is aiming to achieve.  Second, have different people introduce and lead individual agenda items.  Third, instil an understanding that everyone is responsible for the success of the meeting – you can do this by going round the table to seek contributions.  .

And fourth, find an opportunity to give your boss some feedback.

2.  Perception of the expertise of others

The position of the expert, or the more experienced person, is a variation of the boss situation.

If people perceive one of the group to be an expert, they tend not to question that person’s expertise.  This means the expert gets a clear run and their assertions go unchallenged.

Of course there is a role for people’s expertise and experience – we want to know what they think.  But their contributions need to be evaluated as to their practicality, how they can effectively be applied, the same as any other idea.

An expert may be an expert in a narrow field and be less capable of seeing how their expertise will work in practice – this is where the other team members come in.

If contributions are rated by the experience of the contributor then it could be like driving a car by looking in the rear view mirror.  The same problems recur and basic issues are not resolved.  Again, discussion is limited and no new ideas are floated.

To overcome this, encourage the belief that everyone has something to contribute.  Second, evaluate ideas on merit.  Third, challenge defensive behaviour such as “We already tried that and didn’t work.”

3.  Lack of confidence

Newer members of a team are prepared to join vigorously in the dialogue over coffee but often less willing to contribute in front of the whole team.

But, when do new team members feel comfortable about contributing to a more formal meeting – after one week, one month, one year?  If they are not immediately encouraged to speak up, this sends out signals.  Signals such as:  new ideas are not welcome; contributions are evaluated on status, length of service and number of scars.

However, since the old hands have been around for longer, they are more likely to see issues in the same way as they always have done.

One way to manage this is actively to seek out the contribution of newcomers: “Is this something you experienced at your previous job?”  Another tactic is to support those who struggle to make an impact, give them airtime.

4.  Premature conformity

When the team makes a decision, we would like all the team members to agree to that decision.  Successful follow through of actions is increased if everyone is committed.

However, if the group enforces unanimity too early in a discussion, individuals will limit their feedback and withhold different ideas.  People will be more concerned with conformity than with digging into issues.  Not only will they keep quiet during discussion, but they will also have limited commitment afterwards.

As a result, criticism takes place after the decision has been made, rather than before.  The Bay of Pigs may have taken place over fifty years ago, but it still stands as one of the most famous examples of group think.

To avoid group think, make it clear at each stage of discussion what contributions are welcome:   creative ideas, evaluation or execution.

 

So, if you want your meetings to be dynamic and people to commit to the outcomes, you have to encourage a culture in which everybody’s contribution is welcomed and the issues are aired openly around the table.