The Art of Facilitation

The Art of Facilitation

“Curiosity has its own reason for existence.”

Albert Einstein

Most people agree that one-way conversations filled with too many words, limited nuance, and narrow self-awareness can be one of the most draining and unproductive uses of their time.  Approaches packed with passion (and certainty) many times do not land well. We get lost in the exhilaration of presentation and fail to embrace the “art of facilitation.” Most organizations love to “present” their ideas, but the highest performing companies embrace a different set of skills: questions, strategic reflection, and the ability to moderate a curious conversation.  When you ignore open dialogue, you miss the crucial discussion and constructive opposition. Are you occasionally guilty of excessive presentation and not enough facilitation?

Just as a conductor keeps an orchestra in sync, a facilitator keeps the discussion on task. These conductors can identify which streams of the discussion are fruitful and which are distracting, leading to broader dialogue and mutual ownership of the meeting’s outcome. They reframe problems and encourage teammates to stay open-minded so they can creatively problem solve and effectively think through options. Facilitation skills are rare, and they are vital to tapping into the varying ideas of diverse teams.

A gifted facilitator pays attention to group cohesion and interpersonal dynamics while staying unbiased as a conversation ebbs and flows. The best stay neutral as they ride the discussion wave with teammates while still giving merit to each point of view. Meeting participants focus on discussion content while the facilitator monitors the process, energy, and openness in the room.

THE 3 STEPS OF MEETING FACILITATION

Like a great coach, facilitators are non-directive and assist others through the creative process.  They draw out opinions and uncover challenges without taking the spotlight away from participants.  The best senior leaders are facilitators, structuring their meetings to encourage all members of the team to participate evenly and candidly. In my research, I have noted three steps to effectively facilitate a team or customer meeting. 

STEP 1: RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

Delineate your expectations early and clearly.  Prior to a meeting define the rules of engagement, expected outcomes, and discussion norms.  It is important to let discussions breathe and develop naturally but gaining agreement on a simple meeting structure such as prearranged roles and time allocation can enrich the conversation. Share the expectations for how conflict and rambling discussion will be handled. Moreover, it is always smart to highlight the importance of listening, candor, and respect for dissenting viewpoints. You must frame how the meeting will “feel” prior to starting the discussion.

STEP 2: EMBRACE NEUTRALITY

A facilitator is a conversation catalyst and should not manipulate or lead the exchange towards a predetermined destination. An adept moderator establishes a firm yet flexible framework which directs the flow of conversation without letting too many personal beliefs taint the debate.

The best facilitators are tuned into the interpersonal dynamics of attendees and subtly softens the politics in the room. Their instincts and non-threatening communication skills allow them the freedom to ask difficult questions without associates feeling like they are being led down a preordained path.  They utilize thoughtful questions to assess group commitment, reframe challenges and formulate areas of agreement.  They are in a trusting relationship and working “for” everyone in the room.

STEP 3: CREATE AN ATMOSPHERE

Managing interpersonal conflict, and courageous discussions is part of all relationships. Without a tempered voice to mediate conflict, discussions can quickly become counterproductive or downright harmful. When you combine multiple interests and diverse personalities in a room, conflict is common, the trick is to channel that friction in a positive direction.  Facilitators must create an atmosphere that is safe, open, and creative; even when the heat goes up.  Since individuals rarely share their hidden motives, facilitators must exhibit dexterity uncovering deeper needs while also forging an atmosphere that is secure and protected.

The best meetings practice radical transparency and healthy dissent while protecting relationships and solving big problems.

“It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.”

Eugene Ionesco

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