Need to make a decision as a group? Invest in a great facilitator
A little while ago I tore my hair out at a meeting.
At this decision-making meeting, I was a participant. Usually, I’m the facilitator, but not this time. This time there was no facilitator, just a rather ineffectual chairperson who was invested in a particular outcome. Does this sound familiar?
But let me start at the beginning. At first, the meeting seemed to be going well, with great ideas, active engagement, and innovative discussion. Mostly, people listened to one another, and certainly, it looked as if the problem we had come to solve would be resolved. But ten minutes from the end of two hours together we were no closer to a decision. Tempers were frayed, and frustration bubbled through the room. It had happened again; two hours of a bunch of top decision-makers with no decision which meant no action plan and no movement forward. The worst part was that it meant that next week, at the same time, we’d be back thrashing it all out again. I couldn’t bear the thought.
Does this sound familiar? Do you spend time in meetings that come to nought? I hear stories of this waste of time and energy far too often from my clients and colleagues, whether in C-suite roles or project groups, whether in not for profits or on boards. The amount of time and money invested in meetings that don’t yield the results they are set up for is frightening.
Enter the facilitator.
Not the benevolent soul who asks everyone how they are feeling, or the ‘let’s play ice-breaker games that have nothing to do with the topic’ sort. No, the facilitator who is committed to creating ‘Triple Wins’ in every decision and action. That’s wins for you, those around you and the world. Someone who defines a win as both a benefit and a contribution. That kind of facilitator.
Great facilitation leads to great results.
Any group setting is a cauldron of individual needs and group dynamics. Any gathering of people to make decisions will have both visible and invisible agendas. And any meeting is prone to mysterious problems that can’t be predicted by the participants. The facilitator, on the other hand, has the unique advantage of not being a player, but rather someone who can guide the group towards the goals they set for themselves and the outcomes they need. A meeting (or workshop or conference, for that matter) has a far greater chance of being useful to every participant if an effective, sensitive and powerful facilitator is holding the space.
What can you expect from a great facilitator?
1. Laser-sharp timekeeping.
This is not the number one expectation you should have of a great facilitator. Meetings that start on time, stick to the planned timing, and end on time, send a powerful message to every participant; that their time is respected and that there is direction in the meeting and clarity of the goals. A great facilitator will make sure this happens. Conversely, a lousy facilitator will be a slave to time without ensuring that the goals are met in the process. In that case, the facilitator will be rated poorly for good reason.
2. Clever expectation setting.
When the group has an opportunity to set their expectations of the outcomes of the meeting (in one of a variety of clever ways, my personal favourite being with coloured notes written by the participants and themed by the facilitator), they become invested in reaching the goals they have set, and they will help it to happen. Conversely, if the facilitator draws out people’s expectations and then doesn’t assist the group to meet them, they can do more harm than good.
3. Expert weaving of emerging themes.
A great facilitator will listen to what is emerging, both explicitly and implicitly, and be able to synthesise and reflect this to the group in a way that recognises the contributions of each player in the room.
4. Non-didactic leadership.
A great facilitator will avoid teaching or lecturing, stating personal opinions or being in the limelight. Instead, they will ‘hold the space’ strongly and firmly, leading the group to the outcomes they have expressed that they need. The facilitator will not ‘tell’ but will invite the knowledge, wisdom and experience of those in the room to the table to make decisions.
5. A tangible outcome in a respectful environment.
A facilitated meeting should reach the desired tangible goal. This might be a decision, or an action plan, or the sharing of ideas, or all three. Along the way quiet people will have been heard, those who speak easily will have held back to ensure others get a chance, and there will have been a respectful conversation and deep listening. It will have been satisfying and worthwhile.
So, when decisions need to be made, invest in a facilitator. It will save you time and money, and most importantly those in the room will leave knowing that their time was well spent. This, for every meeting participant, is gold.