By Elisabeth Goodman, 27th February 2018
What’s special about facilitation?
Does the prospect of working with a room full of total strangers (or colleagues even) fill you with excitement? Do you get a glow of pleasure when you see people literally lighting up with a break-through in their thinking?
It was one such moment in an otherwise unremarkable and gloomy hotel meeting room in the early 2000’s somewhere in Philadelphia that confirmed to me that I wanted to be a facilitator.
I get a buzz from creating situations where people can think differently about what they are doing, and come up with new perspectives and ideas that will help them to move forward. It doesn’t have to be a major breakthrough. It could be some small incremental improvement, or just feeling happier and more in control of their work.
As a facilitator you are responsible for providing the setting, the atmosphere or the mood and the tools that will enable people to productively think through whatever it is that they have set out to do.
You need to:
- Properly understand the client’s brief and go beyond that to address what they might not have said or considered themselves.
- Ensure that whoever is providing the room has included everything you asked for, and expect to have to improvise on the day for the un-anticipated omissions and quirks of the venue.
- Be prepared for whatever unpredictable emotions and dynamics might arise whenever a group of people get together for the day.
- Be knowledgeable about and skillfull with the tools that you bring to the workshop and how you use them to facilitate the content of the discussion.
- Manage your own energy, thinking and emotions throughout the day!
This book, “The Effective Team’s Facilitation Workbook”, the last in my series of five workbooks for teams, is a celebration of all the aspects I have learnt over the years to help me enjoy being a facilitator. I hope it will help others to do the same.
And by the way, I would love to hear from other enthusiasts who would be interested in contributing to my book – do get in touch..
Understanding the client and clarifying the goal
- What would you like to have happen?
- What will success mean to you?
- What would you like to have seen, heard, thought and felt by the end of the workshop?
What you are trying to get at is their unspoken assumptions and images of a perfect outcome. Good questions, careful listening and observation will be key for helping them to achieve their goal.
Whatever approach you’ve used for a previous client is no guarantee of success with the next one. Test out your ideas with them. Give them examples of what has or has not worked with others.
The icing on the cake? My two greatest learnings in terms of addressing a client’s requirements have been to:
- Prepare an extra take-away for your client: a strategic insight, principle, model that goes beyond the content that they will have generated in the workshop
- Be open to flexing your approach in the workshop to respond to what happens; but check with the client before doing so!
Taking care of meeting room logistics
There will be obvious requirements like audio-visual, flip-charts, wifi access and refreshments. However it’s the meeting room itself that typically proves the most challenging.
Meeting venues typically offer board-room, theatre-style or cafeteria (or cabaret)-style seating. They also cite room size based on the number of seats that can be fitted into the room with these configurations.
What they don’t typically allow for is people being able to move around in the room, put materials up on the walls, and huddle into groups where they can cut out the noise from the other groups!
Being offered separate break-out rooms does not necessarily help if you are the only facilitator and so will end up having to flit backwards and forwards.
As a facilitator I typically ask for rooms that are three times the usual allocated size. I ask if and how I will be able to put materials up on walls, or alternatively on poster boards. And I still get caught out by round pillars, large paintings taking up all the available wall space, and my posters falling off the walls!
There is also the question of what materials you use during the event, and what hand-outs you provide. Do you want to give people something tangible to take away with them to remind them of key learnings and actions?
managing the emotions and dynamics in a workshop
What do you do if someone in your workshop is:
- Totally unengaged?
- Dominates the conversation (in a negative way)?
- Visibly upset?
All of these and more have happened to me! Bearing in mind that people are giving a day of their life (or however long the workshop is) to this event, I take responsibility, as far as I can, for making it a positive and productive experience for everyone.
This means starting with the participants being committed to being there, and being engaged with what’s happening.
Sending out pre-work and agendas in advance will help participants to prepare, to think about their expectations, and to share these with you – to help you prepare.
Whilst it may not always be appropriate to use personality tools such as MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) or Belbin Team Roles during a workshop – being aware of different personality types and preferences helps me to cater for, build rapport with and respond to the diversity of participants.
Laying out and agreeing ground-rules for behaviour can help. And, as a facilitator, I have been comfortable to ‘name’ lack of engagement or unhelpful contributions. Having a second facilitator or ‘helper’ from the client group has also been an invaluable source of support in dealing with these situations or when someone has been upset.
choosing the right tools for facilitation
Where to begin? There are so many tools for a facilitator to use – it’s like a box of goodies. In “The Effective Team’s Facilitation Workbook” I will organise my favourite tools by theme.
The best tools are those that help people to think, to have discussions, to build and develop ideas. Ideally, they cater for different thinking styles too.
And how do you share these tools? What role should slide presentations, flip-charts, laminated materials etc… play?
These are some of the themes I’m thinking of including in my new book and the list is likely to evolve…
- Ice-breakers. There is an enormous range of tools available for getting people warmed up and engaged with the day. Tools to help ‘break the ice’ in terms of interaction with other delegates, and with the facilitator(s). Tools to put people at ease and starting to think about the content. I won’t attempt to recreate this list, but will instead include a few of my favourites and resources for finding others.
- Process improvement and problem solving. There are methodologies for this such as Lean and Six Sigma that come ready made with great tools to use. I’ve covered a lot of them in “The Effective Team’s Operational Excellence Workbook” so I’ll just pick out a few that could suit more general workshops.
- Team building and development. Again, I have referenced several of these in “The Effective Team’s High Performance Workbook”. The team temperature check or diagnostic is particularly powerful.
- Creativity and innovation. I’ve enjoyed working with David Hall and his team in the Ideas Centre and am honour bound not to share their tools. But there are other creativity tools out there in the public domain such as SCAMPER that people can have some fun with.
Managing yourself as a facilitator
Being a facilitator might be fun, but it can also be lonely and stressful! Here are some of the tactics that I’ve found can help:
- Refer back to the client’s goals and your agreed role in delivering against them. Keep that in mind…
- Have a co-facilitator. Bring your own co-facilitator if the contract allows for it, and/or agree someone from the client group. The latter is especially helpful to provide you with an inside perspective and a route for influencing the client.
- Give yourself opportunities for feedback and for reflection. Plan the agenda so that you can have chats with the client and/or delegates to find out how things are going from their perspective. Talk to your co-facilitator if you have one. Grab moments to check -in with yourself for instance whilst break-out exercises are in full swing and during breaks.
- Know what you need to keep yourself energised, focused and positive and prepare resources to help you with that!
To conclude, as I mentioned at the start of this blog, the notes above are a preview of what I will be including in “The Effective Team’s Facilitation Workbook”, RiverRhee Publishing. My working publication date is 3rd December but I may manage to release it sooner.
I would love to hear from anyone else who is interested in this topic, and would also welcome offers from those who would like to contribute to the book.
My four previous workbooks are all available through the RiverRhee Publishing website or from Amazon.
- The Effective Team’s Change Management Workbook, RiverRhee Publishing 2013
- The Effective Team’s High Performance Workbook, RiverRhee Publishing 2014
- The Effective Team’s Operational Excellence Workbook, RiverRhee Publishing 2015
- The Effective Team’s Knowledge Management Workbook, RiverRhee Publishing 2016
“The Effective Team’s Facilitation Workbook” will be available in Autumn / Winter 2018 from the same sources.
About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.) Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.