In the IT world, we all play the role of a facilitator. Technical architects facilitate sessions for estimating and creating designs for their teams. Project managers facilitate team and client meetings and make sure the team is on track to reach its goals. When Business Analysts collect requirements, they may facilitate large requirement meetings. With so many kinds of facilitation roles, can we assume we know what being a facilitator really means? Do we, as facilitators, recognize that this is a significant role we need to work at and manage in order to be effective? How do we make sure we stay “within” our role as a neutral facilitator and not push our own agenda?
So you think to yourself, “Yes Bob, this is obvious. Of course I am an effective facilitator.” But let’s really test how effective each of us really are.
The Two Extremes of Ineffective Facilitation
When I have been a less-than-effective facilitator, I am acting in one of two extremes. I either go into “Presenter” mode or into “Scribe” mode. Let me demonstrate these two extremes.
On one side, a facilitator may go into “presenter” mode. Although their role is to facilitate a discussion (e.g. illicit requirements from business users or help a team arrive at estimates), the “Presenter” actually comes to the meeting with an opinion, specifically, a desired outcome. They are there to help others meet his or her agenda, rather than facilitate the room to develop its own opinions. When a facilitator starts presenting, he or she does not allow others in the room to collaborate towards finding their own solutions. This shuts down the energy in the room. This also means the participants may not “own” the solution.
At the other extreme, a facilitator goes into “scribe” mode. When a facilitator is in “scribe” mode, it means that when he or she walks into the meeting, they sit and take notes and meeting-minutes but do not influence the dialogue. This often allows others in the meeting to go off topic and start discussing points not related, in any way, to the objective of the meeting. Also, if someone is “checked-out” or “shut down”, there is no true facilitator in the room to make sure their voice is heard.
The Responsibility of a Facilitator
The best facilitators enable others to define, own and work in order to achieve their objectives. While the facilitator may bring an approach, the solution is owned by the individuals they are facilitating.
A Good Facilitator:
- Helps the team clarify and align on their objective and then facilitates the team so they make progress towards their objective.
- Helps keep the group’s energy high, so everyone is contributing and feeling heard.
- Keeps momentum or rhythm flowing towards the objective.
- Does not change the team objective during facilitation. (Although they can help the team change direction if the team believes it is required.)
- Helps an entire group make progress towards its objective and makes sure everyone’s opinion counts.
Additionally, a good facilitator is constantly taking the group’s temperature in terms of:
- Energy in the room: Everyone is engaged, participating and making constant progress towards accomplishing their objective.
- Rhythm of dialogue: The dialogue is flowing but stays focused on the initial goal of the meeting.
- Focus: The meeting is staying on track and accomplishing its objective. This can be tricky since the facilitator needs to balance discussion on side topics that are helpful to the objective, vs. topics that derail the goal.
Are You an Efficient Facilitator?
Even if we believe we are doing an effective job at facilitating, we may actually be playing a Presenter or even Scribe. Here are ways we can test our effectiveness:
- Are you directing conversations with your own agenda? Or, are you enabling the team to have its own conversations?
- Are you making sure the team stays on topic and on track to meet its objectives?
- Are you making sure everyone in the room is being heard, and no one’s idea’s are shut down? (This can affect the energy of the room.)
- Did you leave your opinion at the door? A good facilitator helps get to a solution, not give a solution.
- If you had not attended the meeting, would the team have accomplished the same result? (Maybe you are not being as affective as you think you are.)
When It Comes Together…
Simon Sinek recently shared the following quote: “Don’t show up to prove; Show up to improve”.
When great facilitators lead meetings, they enable a dialogue that allows the room to make a decision. They do not abuse their role to force an outcome. Instead, they help everyone do a better job and accomplish fulfilling work. The room fills with energy and momentum that can’t avoid delivering results. When meetings feel this energy, you know you are leading the room and are an effective facilitator.
Do you consider yourself an efficient facilitator? Are there any other suggestions you can offer to help others meet their objectives?