How to Facilitate – the final word, by the World’s Greatest Living Expert

fa·cil·i·tate f&-‘si-l&-“tAt trans. verb To make easy

(Pamphlet 666 in the highly respected ‘taylorisation of tacit knowledge’ series.)

Alice’s first meeting as facilitator was turning out to be a little more stressful than expected.

Facilitating meetings involves making sure things run smoothly; that everyone gets a chance to put their views with no-one dominating, without the discussion meandering or petering out. It is a skill that almost anyone can learn. If you have been in any meetings at all (!) you will have already unconsciously picked up many “dos and don’ts”. But there is no single magic way, no final word. It depends on your personality, what the meeting is trying to accomplish, who is there, and a bunch of other factors… It is different from ‘chairing’, in that it is more consensual- you can’t (or shouldn’t!) barge through items you favour.

The more you facilitate, the more likely you are to become really good at it. Just remember there are lots of different kinds of meeting, and styles and skills don’t always transfer from one kind to another. This is good though, because as your confidence grows, you can take on new challenges. (Some of them you may never be comfortable/ confident/competent in. That’s life.) But enough waffle, let’s get down to the real mea… erm, textured vegetable protein and potatoes.

WGLE thinks it’s always good to:
* begin with a welcome and introduction, which includes your own name
* establish rules about mobile phones, cameras, interrupting other speakers
* explain hand signals, including the ‘I agree’ hand signal
* explain the proposed format and ask for improvements/agreement
* get an idea of people’s familiarity with the issues/why they came/what they want from the meeting. This can be combined with a name-go-round.
* do a name go round + comment per person (unless in enormous group!)
* explicitly ask people to avoid jargon if possible, and encourage folk to butt in for definitions and explanations.

Trouble shooting: (If someone is making trouble, shoot them)
* If it looks like it could kick off/is getting dominated, say people can only speak once, or only speak again after 5/10/15 people have spoken.
* If half way through the same old hands are up, and only a few have spoken, directly invite ‘anyone who hasn’t spoken’ to pipe up.
* If the discussion is meandering, it is sometimes useful to sum up where the meeting is at and suggest some focus.

Decision making:
if decisions need to be made, are you going to do it by ;
1. Facilitator decides without consulting
2. Facilitator decides by consulting
3. Consensus
4. Majority (at what threshold? 50%, 66%?)
5. If the decision is trivial, you could do it by dice, or toss of a coin.

Times when you might choose not to facilitate, or get a co-facilitator to help
1. When you are really tired- you might drag others down!
2. When you have strong opinions on the topic, or have a desired outcome.
3. When there are folk who press your buttons beyond your ability or desire to control yourself.

Things to remember:
‘trust the people’ in the sense that they wanted to come to the meeting, and they want to make it work. Facilitation isn’t rocket science, and if it is, then no-one can do it.

using names can unintentionally create ‘friends/acquaintances of the facilitator’ and ‘others’, especially fo new-comers.

with more than 15 people it becomes impossible for everyone to participate. This is OK if not everyone needs to/wants to (but lots of people who say they don’t want would in a smaller, less intimidating group). You might want- venue and time and topic willing- to split into smaller groups to discuss parts of the topic.

FACILITATING SHOULD BE, and 99 times out of 100 is, FUN. Well-facilitated meetings rock, empowering everyone.

Partial Checklist

Subject of the meeting: Time allotted:

1. What do you want to get out of it?

2. What do you want others get out of it?

3. Is the venue sorted? Is it appropriate? Do you need to tell people anything about toilets, fire exits etc.?

4. As Butch said to Sundance “Who are these guys?” What is the expected audience? How many of them? What range of experience- all beginners or all tired old hacks?
Did anyone bring axes they like to grind (on your skull)?

5.What product, if any, comes out for non-attenders? If notes need taking, or reporting back, who is going to do that?

6. Who can help? Is there someone to look over your plans/co-facilitate/spot hands/mentor, who’s done it before?

7. What format is best? (topic, venue, numbers etc. all have an influence)
Lecture with questions after,
Free-form discussion,
Guided/structured discussion
Small groups reporting back to plenary,
Role plays/workshopping/actions
Mixture of the above

8. If splitting into smaller groups, how will you divide? Freely chosen, into ‘topics’, or by counting “1,2,3, 1, 2,3,1…”?

9. What might go horribly wrong, and how might it be avoided/dealt with?
e.g. Do you, as facilitator, have too strong opinions on the topic? Are lots of your friends or foes going to be there?

10. What props/equipment are you going to use? Do people need pens and paper?

11. Are you doing a hand-out of any sort? Why? What’s going in it?

12. How are you going to bring it to a positive close, so people leave energised?
Are there any house-keeping announcements? Can they be done earlier so the meeting ends positively?

13. How are you going to get debrief/get feedback?

14. How are you going to do it better next time? Is a change in format and props needed? Or just more of the same? Don’t forget to admit when it went really well and that some of that is down to how YOU performed.

With thanks to Mel Jarman for her insightful comments…


About dwighttowers

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One Response to How to Facilitate – the final word, by the World’s Greatest Living Expert

  1. Pingback: Mrs Beaton to a pulp: Facilitators as chefs «

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