In my last post I talked about how facilitation is a key role, we each provide, in the IT world. I also described the two pitfalls facilitators sometimes fall into: The Presenter vs. the Scribe. Now, I am going to share two basic practices I’ve seen facilitators use to manage a room and deliver effective facilitation sessions. These aren’t the only two recommendations, but I have found they help me personally manage some very strong groups.
First, the Check-in…
One challenge facilitators face is having a single person in the room dominate the discussion. There are two typical causes for this situation.
The first possibility is that others perceive the ‘dominator’ as having all the answers. This person has been around twice as long as us and is a genius. So rather than the rest of us spend 30 minutes trying to solve the problem, we can just let “Joe” tell us the answer now and finish up the meeting early.
The other possible reason for the ‘dominator’ is that the person who is dominating believes no one else has anything to add. They shut down others by interrupting or attacking an idea before it’s given a chance to grow.
Both of these situations means that the room is in dire need of a strong facilitator. Someone who can help everyone feel that their opinion matters and collaborate to achieve their desired goals.
One simple way to get ahead of this curve is a practice I call the “Check-in”. At the beginning of the meeting, as the facilitator, you describe your understanding of the overall team objective and the specific goal of the session. For example, the team objective may be planning the next company outing which is a picnic. The purpose of this particular meeting is to choose a theme for the picnic outing.
This part is simple enough. But then, you go around the room and ask everyone to share their specific role related to today’s meeting. Now it gets trickier.
One person may have been part of the planning committee of past events and is there to bring their experience. Another person from HR and is there to help choose the theme and, more importantly, to make sure the theme is appropriate, professional, and compatible for special-needs employees. There may be an individual who is there to observe, learn and support the team in activities like coordinating picnic vendors.
Because everyone shares their “role”, as a facilitator, you can clearly ask individuals to speak up, or prevent a ‘dominator’ from interrupting by explaining that “Jerry from HR” needs to chime in on any concerns from their role’s view.
As the facilitator, you aren’t trying to control the room or shut down any individual. You are simply asking everyone to both play their role and support others in their roles.
Next, the Chair…
This technique is useful when you are facilitating a group of people and standing in front of the room. Maybe you are at a whiteboard or easel, recording decisions or helping others capture ideas. The idea is that while you ares tanding up front, the room of four to 12 folks are the working team.
When I am in this position, I always make sure to have a chair at the front of the room. If I am not physically at a table, I will have a chair just to the side of the whiteboard where I am standing. The purpose of the chair is to allow me to relinquish and regain control of the room.
For example, if there is good discussion around a topic, even if it’s disagreement, I want to encourage this discussion and let the participants feel in control of the room. I will sit down at my chair and really listen to every word.
If at one point, things are getting off track or out of hand, or if the energy is getting low, I will stand up out of my chair and show my intent to start facilitating. I usually do this by raising a question.
This seems like a very small tactic, almost making you think, “Bob – are you serious?” But if you are trying to lead a group, especially one that you don’t work with often, and need to make sure you are facilitating without confrontation, this is a natural way to control the energy and rhythm of the room. (To understand the importance of energy and rhythm, be sure to read my previous post on the role of facilitators.)
What has helped you facilitate more effectively?
These are just two ideas that I have seen effective facilitators take advantage of. While there are other techniques I may share in future posts, I love to learn and hear about other approaches. What are some of the effective tricks you have used to help lead and facilitate your team meetings?