How Good Facilitation can Save your Meetings

July 16, 2015 Chris Pearse

Understanding the simple dynamics of Facilitation can transform the quality of your meetings…

Back in May I wrote a polemic (more of a rant, really) on Meetings. It got a pretty good reception, which I largely attribute to the picture I managed to find for it.

Now I think it’s time to explore how Facilitation can, for some meetings, make a huge difference to the quality of dialogue and tap into the collective wisdom and energy of the group:

A good Facilitator encourages Hunches, Intuition and Feelings – what people think is one thing, what they feel might be quite different. Whether or not thoughts and feelings are congruent is to miss the point, which is that behaviours and decisions are inevitably based on what people feel.

A good Facilitator includes Everyone. Ever been in a meeting when a ‘senior person’ has ‘sat-in’ as an ‘observer’? This kind of creepy behaviour by an eminence grise is really not conducive to good meetings, so I look to include them as just another person in the room. Occasionally to their discomfort.

A good Facilitator welcomes Dissent. If everyone agrees, what’s the point of the meeting? Variance and conflict are the catalysts for creativity. The problem comes when disagreement develops into Grandstanding – dominance through personality. Good facilitators spot it and deal with it.

A good Facilitator doesn’t fixate on Outcomes. And that’s because there is always an outcome – it just might not be the outcome that the organisers wanted. So, if at the end of the meeting, no decision has been made, that’s fine – clearly the team or group isn’t ready to make a decision – and that’s a perfectly valid outcome.

A good Facilitator doesn’t Pull Punches. It’s so easy as a Facilitator to think of yourself as Mr/Mrs Nice Guy. You’re not there to be nice or liked. And that doesn’t just apply to wrapping up meetings on time. One example is to remind those that blame others for their woes, that they are part of the problem and may, to some extent, be complicit in it. Good facilitators do this with compassion.

A good Facilitator will use Technology appropriately. And for me, technology includes flip-charts, paper and pens. The more sophisticated the technology, the more it can detract from the meeting by diluting engagement and scattering attention. Good facilitators will use the minimum.

A good Facilitator will default to listening. I’ve experienced some pretty horrendous meetings where the ‘facilitator’ has done all the talking and steered the group towards the ‘best’ result. All without any conscious realisation of what they were doing and its impact. Good facilitators will tend to non-intervention.

So there we have a few tips on how to facilitate for better meetings.

The list is not exhaustive and by no means absolute. So I invite further contributions including dissent, hunches and feelings, whilst I sit back and… Listen.

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