By Jeffrey Kappen, PhD – Partner at Bâton Global
The plans leaders make in the first 90 days of 2021 could last a lifetime. Massive shifts have occurred in nearly every sector of the economy and returning to the pre-pandemic normal is simply not realistic for many organizations.
Many leaders consider 2021 as a transition year to the new normal and are planning now for the opportunities and realities which lie ahead. Crafting effective plans frequently involves resolving difficult issues and making critical decisions.
Guiding and structuring productive conversations that enable a group to solve big problems and to make important decisions requires unique skills and regular practice! Whether leading an event in-person, virtually, or in a hybrid setting, good facilitators make their work look effortless. Here are some techniques to help you manage the facilitation process and run effective meetings.
Managing the Facilitation Process
Pre-Meeting Best Practices
With any facilitation, preparation is key to success. The goal of doing pre-work is to stay ahead of the conversation so that you, as a facilitator, can be present in the moment and confident in knowing the next steps. As you prepare for your facilitation, be sure to address the following concepts:
- Know the dynamics of the organization by mapping its culture, leadership, challenges and competitive environment. Identify areas where there may be disagreement.
- Know what you and your team are able to deliver including skillsets and weaknesses
- Know the key questions and scenarios that will help propel the discussion forward during the facilitation
In-Meeting Best Practices
When the day of the facilitation arrives, create a foundation for working together at the start of the session. Structures sets the session’s tone and create a safe environment that encourages open and respectful communication. Such actions include:
- Begin by making introductions across the room if needed,
- Establish ground rules with the full audience, and
- Review the agenda and confirming meeting objectives before beginning the facilitation.
As the meeting progresses, employ a range of tools and techniques to support everyone’s best thinking. To help guide discussions:
- Create a safe space for discussion by actively listening, using inclusive behavior, injecting humor, and inspiring confidence,
- Feel the energy and flow of the audience through the session while managing the time allocated to agenda items,
- Ensure you use your IQ and EQ to be aware of different learning preferences, and
- Record notes throughout the facilitation to aid the audience in tracking the discussion and following up on action items and key topics.
Follow-Up Best Practices
Conducting a facilitation is exhausting. But you have to carry that energy from the facilitation to the follow-up. When it comes to this last step, be sure to:
- Schedule time in advance to debrief from the facilitation to confirm next steps or continue the conversation, and
- Send thank-you notes to all participants and those who supported the facilitation.
Meeting Facilitation Issues
Engaging Difficult Participants
- Reluctant and distracting participants – There are several types of “difficult behaviors” that can occur in group situations. As a facilitator, learning how to effectively and compassionately address these challenges can help the group in reaching its goals. Be sure to give reluctant participants the time and space to engage at their own convenience. With distracting participants, take back ownership of the conversation, but in a way that allows them to remain whole.
Moving Toward Goals and/or Consensus
- Finding common ground – As a facilitator, it is your job to help the group navigate through differing opinions. Part of this involves identifying and addressing divergent assumptions and interpretations that may prevent the group from reaching its goals. Once you have a better understanding of the cause of the disagreement, you can take steps to help the group resolve it.
- Call the question and keep it moving forward – Facilitators also have to keep conversations productive. Non-verbal aids can help. Straw polls give you a sense of the order and allow you to move forward from a sticking point due to very vocal minority detractors.
- Synthesize and Summarize – Sometimes different themes emerge simultaneously in the flow of the conversation. As you listen to unorganized thoughts, try to connect the ideas to one another and to the goals of the meeting. Then, reflect these ideas back to the audience in a way that makes sense.
- Be realistic and flexible – One of the facilitator’s responsibilities is to make sure the group stays on track. This is managed through planning and execution. When preparing for the facilitation, set a realistic plan of how you are going to spend your time, and build flexibility into the agenda, including strategically placed breaks. When you’re facilitating, be firm with the goals and agenda of the session while adapting to the importance of conversations as they emerge and the energy of the participants.
- Devil’s Advocate? – In addition to being a process expert, good facilitators will also leverage their knowledge and experience to help the group reach its goals. However, expertise can make it difficult to remain completely objective, especially if the group is about to settle on a bad decision. If you have doubts, take on a devil’s advocate role and lead the group through a series of probing questions that may help them see why their solution might not work.
- Hosting a virtual facilitation offers some unique advantages, but there are also some challenges to consider, including the following: evaluating audience reactions when cameras are turned off, keeping the audience engaged while competing with distractions at home, and addressing technology barriers. While virtual facilitation can be effective, it might require more energy, planning to increase engagement, and a backup plan if technology fails.
While mastering the art of facilitation takes time and lots of practice, we hope these practical tips will help you lead more effective meetings.
Based in Des Moines, Bâton Global provides world-class strategic planning and facilitation services in Iowa and around the world. Schedule your free consultation to learn how Bâton Global can make your next planning meeting or retreat a success.
Jeffrey A. Kappen, Ph.D.
Partner, Bâton Global