Archive for the Meetings Category

The Benefits of Facilitation

The Benefits of Facilitation

Editor’s note: This is the final installment in a series of three excerpts from an article originally published in The Competent Collaborator blog of Fulcrum Connection. See Part 1, “Misconceptions about Facilitation” in the March 2016 issue of Coffee Break and Part 2, “The Truth about Facilitation Skills” in the April 2016 issue.

These five key benefits of facilitation are based on the descriptions of facilitation services provided by the Hayes Group and the Kinharvie Institute

Benefit #1: Facilitation improves meeting outcomes. Improving meeting outcomes is one way of increasing the return on investment for meetings. The meeting investment is the sum of the salary per unit-time multiplied by the time for each individual in the meeting. The return on the investment is the monetary value that the results of the meeting enable relative to the meeting investment. Therefore, improving the meeting outcomes so that the results of the meeting enable actions that lead to value for the organization is one way of improving the return on investment.

Benefit #2: Facilitation improves meeting efficiency. Improving meeting efficiency means taking less time to reach a given set of outcomes and reduces the size of the investment needed to get to a certain return.

Benefit #3: Facilitation manages dysfunctional group behavior professionally. Sometimes you don’t have a choice about who needs to be involved in a meeting. Dysfunctional behavior by an individual in a group can drastically increase the meeting time. In addition, dysfunctional behavior by an individual in a meeting can thwart efforts to produce value. In a nutshell, dysfunctional behavior in a meeting is the enemy of return on investment from that meeting.

Benefit #4: Facilitation allows the leader to participate in the group work. Typically, leaders who hire facilitators not only understand the value of collaboration to spark innovation and produce needed change, but they also are great collaborators themselves. Professional facilitators do not engage in group work because they need to stay focused on process leadership in order to achieve the agreed-to meeting outcomes.

Benefit #5: Facilitation drives the group to accountability. Professionally facilitated meetings are highly interactive. The content is generated by the participants themselves. In addition, professionally facilitated meetings have established outcomes that drive informed action following the meeting. By generating content, participants have “skin in the game,” and willingly sign up for next steps associated with the meeting outcomes.

About the author

Valerie PatrickValerie PatrickValerie Patrick, founder of Fulcrum Connection, has led over 40 highly successful and high-performance teams across over 200 organizations in the last 15 years of a 25-year career with multi-national Bayer in the areas of product development, sustainable development, and organizational change. Dr. Patrick served as sustainability coordinator for Bayer’s North America operations, Head of Bayer Material Science’s Creative Center in Future Business, and Head of Bayer Material Science’s Transportation Industry Innovations group. Dr. Patrick has B.S. (Bucknell University), M.S. (California Institute of Technology), and Ph.D. (California Institute of Technology) degrees in chemical engineering, and is a CPF (Certified Professional Facilitator) trained Creative Problem Solving facilitator, SOQ (Situational Outlook Questionnaire) Qualified Climate Practitioner, and ADKAR Change Management Practitioner. Dr. Patrick is also author of both the Competent Collaborator Blog and Quadrant II Newsletter, and is host of the Science of Success: Social Secrets Podcast. (All can be found at http://www.fulcrumconnection.com.)

Need help making the best use of time spent in meetings? Let´s schedule a short phone conversation to discuss your situation.

The Truth about Facilitation Skills

The Truth about Facilitation Skills

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of three lightly-edited excerpts from an article originally published in The Competent Collaborator blog of Fulcrum Connection. See Part 1, “Misconceptions about Facilitation” in the March 2016 issue of Coffee Break. Part 3, “The Benefits of Facilitation” will appear In May.

A facilitator is a process leader who partners with a task leader to design and execute a group event that meets agreed-to outcomes and deliverables. The following sources were used to identify the five key skills needed for facilitation described next:

Key facilitation skill 1: Effectively manage your own emotions to stay neutral and objective on content, and to stay energized in the facilitation role in order to guide the group toward agreed-to outcomes. Some call this emotional intelligence. This skill encompasses a wide range of capabilities such as having the self-confidence to speak in front of a large group of people, trusting the potential of a group to generate high-quality content, and to maintain self-control in the face of criticism and other negative emotions from others.

Key facilitation skill 2: Demonstrate process leadership in preparation for an event/project that is both highly cognitive and highly collaborative in nature. This skill also encompasses a wide range of capabilities such as designing applications to meet client needs, preparing time and space to support the group process, and helping to clarify the purpose and outcomes for the event/project.

Key facilitation skill 3: Practice process leadership to deliver agreed-to outcomes. This skill includes being able to think on your feet, displaying excellent interpersonal communication skills, being able to effectively manage dysfunctional behavior, and adaptability to make needed changes to the facilitation plan on the spur of the moment, and in consultation with the client. This skill also involves a wide range of capabilities such as demonstrating effective participatory communication skills, ensuring inclusiveness, evoking group creativity, and guiding the group to consensus and desired outcomes.

Key facilitation skill 4: Form an effective and complementary partnership with the event/project sponsor/leader that is also highly cognitive and highly collaborative in nature. This skill includes such capabilities as demonstrating collaborative values, clarifying mutual commitment, and developing consensus on task, deliverables, roles, and responsibilities for the event/project.

Key facilitation skill 5: Develop yourself as facilitation professional. This skill includes maintaining a base of knowledge to support your facilitation work, mastering a range of facilitation methods, maintaining your professional standing as a facilitator, acting with integrity, and practicing self-assessment and self-awareness to continually improve as a facilitation professional.

I believe that the reason there are so few professional facilitators relative to the overall population is that many of these key skills are difficult to master because they are contradictory in nature. For example, practicing process leadership when preparing for an event means being credible in the preparation and being cognitively fully engaged in the task. But it also requires being collaborative which means listening to understand and value the ideas of your collaborator(s) as much as your own, and proceeding accordingly. So you have to create a plan for the preparation, but you also have to be willing to abandon the plan, as needed, in response to the evolving collaboration and consensus that occurs during the preparation. This also applies to the facilitated event. You create a facilitation plan but need to be flexible and aware enough to adjust the plan as opportunities and challenges emerge during the course of the event.

About the author

Valerie PatrickValerie PatrickValerie Patrick, founder of Fulcrum Connection, has led over 40 highly successful and high-performance teams across over 200 organizations in the last 15 years of a 25-year career with multi-national Bayer in the areas of product development, sustainable development, and organizational change. Dr. Patrick served as sustainability coordinator for Bayer’s North America operations, Head of Bayer Material Science’s Creative Center in Future Business, and Head of Bayer Material Science’s Transportation Industry Innovations group. Dr. Patrick has B.S. (Bucknell University), M.S. (California Institute of Technology), and Ph.D. (California Institute of Technology) degrees in chemical engineering, and is a CPF (Certified Professional Facilitator) trained Creative Problem Solving facilitator, SOQ (Situational Outlook Questionnaire) Qualified Climate Practitioner, and ADKAR Change Management Practitioner. Dr. Patrick is also author of both the Competent Collaborator Blog and Quadrant II Newsletter, and is host of the Science of Success: Social Secrets Podcast. (All can be found at http://www.fulcrumconnection.com.)

Need help making the best use of time spent in meetings? Let´s schedule a short phone conversation to discuss your situation.

Misconceptions about Facilitation

Misconceptions about Facilitation

Editor´s note: This is the first in a series of three, lightly edited excerpts from an article originally published in The Competent Collaborator blog of Fulcrum Connection. Parts 2 and 3 will appear in the April and May issues of Coffee Break.

The Institute of Cultural Affairs in Belgium identified five common misconceptions about facilitation.

  1. Facilitation is another name for training. In training, information flows primarily from the trainer to the participants, while in facilitation, information flows primarily from the participants to each other and to the facilitator.
  2. Facilitation is easy. Like any professional skill, facilitation takes deliberate learning and time to understand, practice, and master.
  3. Facilitation is getting inundated with a whirlwind of ideas. Although idea generation is often a component needed in a facilitated session, facilitation is focused on delivering the outcomes necessary for a group to take informed action.
  4. Facilitation is a new buzz word. Facilitation began in 19th century France with an event called a charrette for group work focused on design and then became mainstream in 1994 with the formation of the International Association of Facilitators.
  5. Facilitation is tricks and gimmicks. The techniques of professional facilitation are grounded in science; for example, read Creative Approaches to Problem Solving by Isaksen, Dorval, and Treffinger, 2000.
  6. Certified Professional Facilitator, Geoff Ball, identifies some more misconceptions about facilitators to add to this list. See ClientAwarenessGuide.pdf

  7. A facilitator takes over the group. A facilitator complements the task leader who hires the facilitator as the process leader but it is the task leader that is in charge of the group and who has responsibility for results; in fact, the facilitator does not have credibility without the task leader’s endorsement and support.
  8. It is a sign of weakness to let someone else facilitate your meeting. The facilitator and the task leader form a collaborative partnership in which the facilitator acts as a consultant and coach to help the task leader look good, and to achieve the group outcomes needed to support long-term goals.
  9. Facilitation is “touchy-feely” like group therapy. Creativity and the willingness to learn from others are important components to facilitation. Science shows that emotion impacts both creativity and learning so awareness of emotions is part of what it takes for a facilitator to deliver agreed-to meeting outcomes.
  10. Facilitators are only involved in what happens in the meeting. As Bill Shephard points out in the Science of Success podcast, the work that the facilitator does before the meeting is the largest contributor to the success of the meeting.

About the author

Valerie PatrickValerie PatrickValerie Patrick, founder of Fulcrum Connection, has led over 40 highly successful and high-performance teams across over 200 organizations in the last 15 years of a 25-year career with multi-national Bayer in the areas of product development, sustainable development, and organizational change. Dr. Patrick served as sustainability coordinator for Bayer’s North America operations, Head of Bayer Material Science’s Creative Center in Future Business, and Head of Bayer Material Science’s Transportation Industry Innovations group. Dr. Patrick has B.S. (Bucknell University), M.S. (California Institute of Technology), and Ph.D. (California Institute of Technology) degrees in chemical engineering, and is a CPF (Certified Professional Facilitator) trained Creative Problem Solving facilitator, SOQ (Situational Outlook Questionnaire) Qualified Climate Practitioner, and ADKAR Change Management Practitioner. Dr. Patrick is also author of both the Competent Collaborator Blog and Quadrant II Newsletter, and is host of the Science of Success: Social Secrets Podcast. (All can be found at http://www.fulcrumconnection.com.)

Need help making the best use of time spent in meetings? Let´s schedule a short phone conversation to discuss your situation.

How long should a meeting last?

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When someone asks me “How long should a meeting last?” the underlying question often is “How can we avoid meetings that drag on with no apparent end in sight?”

The short answer to the first question is: as long as it takes to complete the stated purpose of the meeting. (Skip to the end of this article if you want a specific time estimate.)

The short answer to the second question is: by clearly stating the purpose and expected outcome at the beginning of the meeting and ending when that result had been achieved.

Too often, meetings are called without the team leader or meeting convener having completed this crucial sentence: “By the end of this meeting we will have….”

Here are some examples of outcomes for three different meetings focused on the same issue.

“By the end of this meeting we will have…

  1. …analyzed options for improving our security system and decided on steps needed in order to make a decision at our next meeting.”
  2. …decided on the priority improvements in the security system and selected a service provider.”
  3. …reviewed the results of the changes made in the security system and decided whether additional measures need to be taken.”

Given this kind of clarity about the purpose of these meetings, the convener knows exactly who to invite (i.e., those with a direct responsibility or specialized knowledge about the issue.) And those participants arrive at the meetings fully aware of the task before them. Ideally, they have received and reviewed relevant background information ahead of time and the leader or facilitator has designed an orderly process for discussing, deciding and clarifying next steps.

And then when the objective has been achieved, the meeting is adjourned.

Unless of course someone suggests additional items for the group to address. The justification for this is usually something like, “Well, now that we are here, let´s also talk about…”

RESIST THIS TEMPATION!

If these new issues were really urgent, they should have been included in the original agenda. Make note of them and agree to address them in a future meeting BUT NOT NOW. Do not trap the participants, who after all, have completed the task they were called to do, in a longer meeting. Everyone in the room has other things to do. Let them go, with thanks for a job well done.

While the exact duration of a meeting depends on the complexity of the issues and degree of controversy around them, as well as the effectiveness of the agenda design and the facilitation skill of the meeting leader, here is a rough estimate, based on the frequency of the meeting and the kinds of issues addressed. Download a summary of four kinds of meetings, what they might include and how long they typically last.

Need help making the best use of time spent in meetings? Let´s schedule a short phone conversation to discuss your situation.

Imagine meetings that surprise and delight

Visualize your meetings

Imagine that the participants at your meetings arrive full of curiosity about the discussion to come and leave feeling energized by the work they accomplished together.
Imagine that the conversation during the meeting is focused, dynamic and leads to new insights, clear next steps and wise decisions.
Imagine that the decisions taken are skillfully implemented and also carefully monitored and adjusted as needed.
Imagine that people want to join your team in part because the meetings are so interesting and productive.
Imagine that your meetings set a new standard of excellence that others in the organization begin to emulate.
Imagine that the organization begins to thrive in new and surprising ways because of the quality of the team leadership and collaboration displayed in its meetings.

As John Lennon reminds us, you are not the only one dreaming of these transformations. Meeting participants everywhere are acutely aware of and frustrated by the 10,000 ways their time is wasted in meetings. But too few meeting leaders dare to imagine a different reality and take the steps needed to create it.

Over the years, I have shared many tips and techniques for creating excellent meetings. (See the published books, free resources and blog posts at www.iifac.org.) Today I am inviting you to take a moment to connect with your heartfelt desires related to how you and your colleagues meet and work together.

Take a deep breath.
Slowly re-read the “Imagine” texts at the beginning of this article.
Breathe.
Read them out loud.
Take another deep breath.
Notice what you feel in your body when you contemplate these possibilities.
What does your heart say?
What other details would you add to the dream?

Want to talk about it? Let´s schedule a short phone conversation about your meeting related hopes, dreams and fears.

What to do about “conflictive” people?

In a recent workshop, “Excellent meetings at work,” this question came up: Is it valid not to invite someone because we believe s/he is conflictive or will create conflict?

The main reason to invite someone to a work meeting is that their contribution to the issue under discussion is important.

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Question for the meeting organizers: Are we willing to listen and consider the “conflictive” people’s points of view?

If the honest reply is “no” then it is better not to invite them – and be prepared to explain the reason behind this decision. Besides, we should recognize that without their participation, the group might make wrong decisions due to not having considered the interests of these people. In addition, those decisions might spark resistance, rebelliousness, or attacks from the people who were excluded from the discussion.

Question for the organizers: Is it possible that “conflictive” people could have concerns that should be considered?

Following are a few examples of dealing with “conflictive” persons in work meetings. Each example includes a question with the intention of inviting the event organizers to reflect.

Example 1. The “conflictive” person always presents the same argument in each meeting, whether it is pertinent or not. S/he takes advantage of having an audience to express their beliefs. The conflict arises when the group gets tired of listening to the same “issue” time and again, especially when it seems to be irrelevant to the points under discussion.

Question for the organizers: Have you talked to that person apart from the meeting to find out what their intention is by repeating their message – that apparently has little or nothing to do with the purpose of the meeting – and to explain why you ask they do not?

Example 2. The group itself, and/or its leaders, are afraid of conflict and they do not know what to do when it arises. Instead of embracing different opinions and exploring them with curiosity, they tend to not allow those who bring up conflict to speak.

Question for the organizers: Have you got the tools to face conflicts calmly, confidently, and creatively?

The following five steps help cool down emotions and allow group members to listen to each other:

  1. Recognize there are opposing points of view.
  2. Remind the group what the issue under discussion is, and the expected outcome of the meeting (i.e., collecting ideas, prioritizing options, making a decision, etc.).
  3. Summarize the issues that are not controversial.
  4. Point out the issues yet to be resolved.
  5. Jointly find a process to work those issues out.

There are many options for dealing with point 5, but if you cannot come up with one at the moment, you can always ask the group for suggestions, saying, “So what should we do? What are the next steps to explore these different opinions?”

IIFAC offers coaching to help facilitators cover the challenges of working with groups. Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your needs.

Are “meeting” and “conversation” synonymous?

Quick answer: No.

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Here are some typical distinctions between these two formats for human interaction.

Meeting Conversation
Formal Informal
Set time and place Spontaneous
Conference table Kitchen table
Protocol-driven Arise from shared interests
Organizational Personal
Obligatory attendance Voluntary attendance
Hierarchical Horizontal
Planned agenda Free flow of ideas
Written summary of results and next steps No written record-keeping

Note: Not every meeting or conversation exactly matches this list and sometimes the same characteristic can be found in both formats.

What might happen if we transformed meetings into what our colleague Larry Dressler calls “high quality conversations?” Could this shift improve the way we engage in group conversations, deliberation, and decision-making?

Another quick answer: Yes.

The defects and dysfunctions of most meetings are well documented (too long, too boring, too unproductive, etc.). These bad habits are deeply engrained. Fortunately, most of us have experienced the satisfactions of thought-provoking, inspiring, motivating conversations. We just do not expect them to happen in the context of a meeting. Given the opportunity to contribute to a high-quality conversation, however, we can bloom like flowers in the desert!

To bring the benefits of conversations into your next meeting, try making these changes:

  • Break the routine. Vary the meeting time and place.
  • Change the venue. Move to a more physically comfortable space that offers flexible seating arrangements, natural light and no interruptions.
  • One powerful question. Ask one important, thought-provoking question to focus the conversation (and eliminate the laundry list of other topics).
  • Explore the question from all points of view. Stay open to doubt, dissent and new ideas. Do not rush to a premature decision.
  • Avoid “false consensus”. Before making the final decision, verify the individual levels of commitment to the emerging proposal. Do not assume (or require) that everyone be equally convinced or enthusiastic about the pending decision. Taking the time to do a reality check on the degree of support for the proposal —and, if necessary, to further modify it— will improve the odds that the decision will be implemented.
  • No observers. Invite only those who have something to contribute to the conversation, especially those who will need to implement any decisions taken.

In essence, making meetings more conversational means making them more participatory which, done properly, in turn leads to a better return on the investment in bringing people together.

Need help planning your meeting agendas? Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your coaching needs.

Co-facilitation: Mutual support or power struggle?

Sharing responsibility for the facilitation of a complex meeting or a large event such as a workshop or conference presents challenges and opportunities that are different from those we face when facilitating alone.

Benefits of co-facilitation

Diversity. Collaboration between facilitators of different gender, ethnicity, nationality, age, etc. sends a positive message about the value of diversity in leadership and brings a broader perspective to the group’s process.

Stress management. Long meetings can be truly exhausting for one facilitator. Rotating the facilitation duties is a good way to care for yourself and the group.

Letting go. If you tend to believe that “I have to do it all myself, or it doesn’t get done right,” practicing co-facilitation may help you break this pattern of control.

Backup. If one facilitator becomes overwhelmed, ill, injured or is called away for an emergency, the meeting can continue with the other facilitator(s).

Build confidence and capacity. Working with a more experienced facilitator, watching how they work and anticipating what you can do to make her job easier is a good way to gain confidence, especially in potentially intimidating situations, such as large or conflictive meetings.

Joy. Working in a team can be a delight!

Tips for successful co-facilitation

One leader. To simplify communication with the client or organizing committee, designate one person as the contact person and leader of the co-facilitation team.

Clarify roles/tasks. Co-facilitators should meet before the meeting to plan how they will work together. Who will facilitate first? What tasks will the others perform when not facilitating? How often will we exchange roles? What unobtrusive signals will we use to communicate our needs to each other during the meeting? If the facilitators are being paid, how will the money be divided?

Post-meeting evaluation. Get together after the meeting to discuss what went well and what could be improved in the future.

Spirit of service. Be humble. Pay attention. Serve the group well.

Warnings

Do not co-facilitate with a stranger. If you do not know a proposed co-facilitator, try to observe him facilitate and establish a collegial relationship before agreeing to co-facilitate. At a minimum, meet with the person in advance to get to know more about his experience and facilitation style. Discussing roles and mutual expectations can avoid unpleasant surprises for both the two of you and the group.

Recognize rank issues. If you are a very experienced facilitator working with a relative newcomer, resist the temptation to jump in and take over. Simply serve as the assistant. If you coach the person during the meeting, do so sparingly and discretely. If you are an inexperienced facilitator, spend time as an apprentice before you try co-facilitating. Trying to learn in the heat of a large meeting will not help you or the group.

Never publicly criticize or argue with your co-facilitator during the meeting. This behavior will only serve to damage your relationship and lose the trust of the group. If necessary, talk to the facilitator at a break or quietly ask the group to take a break so you can discuss an issue.

Do not change roles too often. It is important that the group have a sense of stability and continuity during the meeting. Changing facilitators too often can be confusing, especially if their styles are very different.

This article is adapted from “The Joys and Perils of Co-Facilitation,” published in the Bonfire Collection: a complete reference guide to facilitation and change.

Need help in developing collaborative relationships with a co-facilitator? Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your coaching needs.

What can everyday meetings learn from special events – and vice versa?

As consultants in participatory processes, we have observed that many organizations plan their special events such as conferences, workshops, forums, assemblies, etc. differently than their everyday business meetings.

We wonder, “What do these two kinds of events have in common? What are the differences between them? And “What can we learn from one to strengthen the participants’ experience in the other?”

The following chart invites reflection on the success factors for participatory processes. Put a ? to indicate the presence of these elements in your events and meetings.

Success Factor

Special Event

Every day meeting

Planned in advance

 

 

Has a budget assigned

 

 

Location is chosen with care

 

 

Organizing committee in charge

 

 

Invitation directed toward a specific public

 

 

Purpose is clear and shared with all

 

 

Program designed to stimulate interest in attending

 

 

Participants have ample opportunity to contribute to the discussion

 

 

Time is allotted for each activity and time limits are respected

 

 

Someone is responsible for preparing/leading each activity

 

 

Program is outcome-oriented

 

 

Physical needs and the well being of participants are taken into consideration

 

 

Relevant information is shared in advance

 

 

Results, commitments and next steps are promptly communicated after the event

 

 

Support roles (facilitation, welcome, translators, documentation, food, etc.) are assigned or contracted

 

 

Bosses, directors, decision-makers are involved in the planning and present at the event

 

 

Final thought: All your meetings, special or everyday, deserve both careful planning and an outcome-oriented focus.

Need help improving your everyday meeting or planning a special event? Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your needs.

Coffee break snacks: More important than you think!

We have written in the past about the importance of scheduling breaks during meetings. Now we want to go a step further to investigate what is on the table beside the coffee pot and hot water for tea.

Sometimes the answer is, nothing!

Often the only food offered is a box of inexpensive cookies or a bag of donuts, high in calories and low in nutritional value.

Clearly, no one has put much thought into how the presence or absence of snacks can affect the productivity and good will of meeting participants.

Sharing food is a way that human beings say “Welcome”, “We value your presence” and, in the case of meetings, “We need you to be focused and alert, so we have provided some treats to fuel your mind and body.”

We must remember that food and water are basic human needs. When these are neglected, people can become quarrelsome, impatient, uncooperative and unable to think clearly.

Another factor in the “food equation” is the diversity of individual food preferences and requirements of meeting participants. Vegetarian? Vegan? Kosher? No salt? Dairy free? Nut allergies? Gluten free? No sugar? Organic? Locally grown?

And remember, we are only talking about the refreshments served during the breaks, not the main meals!

Here some suggestions for turning the snack table into a source of positive energy for the group:

  • Offer a variety of beverages, including
    • Regular and decaf coffee
    • Black, green and herbal teas
    • Milk and non-dairy creamer
    • Water
    • Fruit juice
  • Offer a variety of snacks, such as
    • Energy bars
    • Fresh or dry fruit
    • Raw vegetables (depending on the time of day)
    • Nuts
    • Popcorn
    • Hard boiled eggs

For special occasions, consider these options

  • Local specialties, preferably not laden with sugar
  • Home-made treats prepared by meeting participants
  • Chocolate!

Key message: Put some thought into the snacks offered at your meetings. Poll the attendees about their preferences and dietary needs. Vary the selection to surprise and delight your participants.

What are the refreshments you love (or hate) to see on the Coffee Break table?

Need help with meeting logistics? Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your coaching needs.
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