Dimensions to Managing Group Process

organizationThe word ‘facilitation’ comes from the Latin word ‘facilis’, or “to make easy”. While a professional facilitator makes process work look easy, guiding groups through structured steps to results created, understood and accepted by all participants is anything but!

During your facilitation of longer meetings and workshops, in addition to facilitating the right methods around a good session design, great group process involves that you manage four important dimensions:

ATTENTION: Keeping the group focused involves: What you say and do to frame new processes; provide verbal and written instructions; manage transitions between topics; and staying on topic.

INFORMATION: When it comes to facilitation, the ability to formulate the right questions for the right work to the right people is essential, along with the right tools to gather participant responses.

ORGANIZATION: Managing time from start to finish requires avoiding time wasters, effective group management, reporting/summarizing, and supporting group memory appropriate follow-on reports.

ENERGY: Setting a good pace for the work involves: Flexibility, presence; adopting a variety of methods; making course correction if needed; and appropriate use of humour and fun.

Call to Action:

Advanced Facilitation Skills: Commit to taking your facilitation skills and confidence to your next level of mastery. Register today for The Agile Facilitator (Calgary/Vancouver); The Strategic Facilitator (Metro Vancouver); The Engaging Facilitator (waiting list).

Just starting out? These courses will enhance your facilitation confidence and empower you with solid foundational skills: The Essential Facilitator (Calgary/Vancouver); The Confident Facilitator (Vancouver); The Skillful Facilitator (Vancouver).

Go Slow To Go Fast Later

collaborationSay your organization or client needs to bring together multiple stakeholder views. As the facilitator, your fundamental challenge working with diverse boundaries and perspectives will be how to overcome partial views arising from different disciplines, departments, sectors, and participant diversity. This takes time.

When designing meetings and sessions around complex topics, adopt conversation and dialogic methods that foster respectful communication and collective learning across the boundaries of:

  • Different (and partial) knowledge bases/perspectives.
  • Different cultures, beliefs, values and acceptable practices and behaviours.
  • Different vocabulary, language, and meaning / interpretation of ideas and facts.
  • Non-existent or inadequate links/ connections between units, divisions, groups, organizations.

Whereas the convenor will often be under enormous pressure to make decisions and act fast, the reality is that diverse stakeholders are unlikely to support a chosen path of action without their full participation, mutual understanding, and inclusive solutions. When engaging across diverse perspectives, go slow at first to build common ground and a shared based of information. Invest in fostering trust-based relationships from which innovative and supported solutions can emerge and be implemented.

Call to Action: Learn how to design and facilitate conversation methods for collaboration and wise action – The Engaging Facilitator (Calgary). Register today for one or more of our other classes in advanced facilitation: The Agile Facilitator (Calgary), and The Strategic Facilitator (Metro Vancouver).

Just starting out? These courses will enhance your facilitation confidence and empower you with solid foundational skills:  The Confident Facilitator (Vancouver); The Skillful Facilitator (Vancouver).

What to Expect in More Complex Meetings?

blog picThere is a significant difference in how one prepares to facilitate group work to resolve issues, improve processes, agree on directions for change, and commit to action.  Compared to regular team or status/progress meetings, expect:

MORE COMPLEXITY:  Usually a greater diversity of perspectives and views must be considered, balanced and reconciled, before it is possible to generate consensus and commitment.

HIGHER STAKES: The outcomes of such meetings matter to the organization’s goals. Success is important, and so is the downside of not succeeding.

DESIGN MATTERS: Your facilitation must rely on a thoughtful process to help the group achieve desired outcomes. It is essential for you to have the right process framework to follow, and to know where you are in the process. There is a sequence to what questions must be answered before other work can be tackled.

LONGER MEETINGS: As a result of all the above, more time is needed to achieve desired outcomes, extending to several days, and sometimes weeks and months.

 Call to Action: Commit to becoming a more agile and professional masterful facilitator in 2013! Register today for one or more of our upcoming classes in advanced facilitation: The Agile Facilitator (Calgary); The Engaging Facilitator (Calgary) and The Strategic Facilitator (Metro Vancouver).

Just starting out? These courses will enhance your facilitation confidence and empower you with solid foundational skills:  The Confident Facilitator (Vancouver); The Skillful Facilitator (Vancouver).

Participants Bored? Some Dominating?

Adopt a variety of strategies to keep group conversation lively, productive, and all
participants engaged.

Strategies for Lively DiscussionInteraction is essential for understanding, collective learning, and alignment. In a “whole group” conversation, it is easy for participants to disengage and let others (often positional leaders or subject matter experts) dominate the discussion, unless provided with a meaningful opportunity to contribute.

Assuming the right people are in the room, how can you engage everyone to ensure their perspectives, input and ideas are considered?  TIP: To facilitate more lively conversations and productive meetings, you might adopt one of these four facilitation strategies:

  1. SUBGROUPS: Count off subgroups, and assign them the task of fleshing out initial thinking on different aspects of a focus question for presentation back to the whole, e.g., customer, employees, suppliers.
  2. PARTNERS: Invite pairs/trios to discuss the focus question together for 3-5 minutes. Get highlights and record the top notes during report out, using the ‘me too!” principle to avoid unnecessary repetition.
  3. GO-ROUNDS: Once key information has been shared, ensure the conversation is not dominated by the boss or subject matter expert. Invite a timed go-round so that everyone has an equal chance to input, e.g., “let’s take no more than 2 minutes each to….”
  4. POLLING: After the discussion has gone on for a while, invite a straw poll through a show of hands, e.g., ” on a scale of 1 to 5, how much do you agree with _____?”, then discuss the reasons that folks voted as they did.

Call to Action: Commit to becoming a more agile and professional masterful facilitator in 2013! Register today for one or more of our upcoming classes in advanced facilitation: The Agile FacilitatorThe Engaging Facilitator; and The Strategic Facilitator.

Just starting out? These courses will enhance your facilitation confidence and empower you with solid foundational skills: The Confident FacilitatorThe Skillful Facilitator.

Visioning With Visuals

In my professional facilitation work, I use visual metaphors and templates whenever possible, to ignite participant understanding, open up creativity, and foster new possibilities. For example, let’s say your group needs to envision a different future, perhaps a new kind of organization, a novel approach, or innovative ways of responding to customers.

Start by giving individuals time to do some visioning on their own, with a visual template such as the Bold Vision developed by Avril Orloff for one of our client sessions. Once ideas have been generated, have participants break into small groups to share their initial thinking, and then collaborate to create a group poster. Their task should be to sketch out their idea with both visuals and words, so that someone from another group will really ‘see’ and ‘get’ their idea.  Once all the posters are ready, invite a Gallery Walk and then host a discussion of the features that are most intriguing, promising, and attractive.

Call to Action:  Register for our upcoming course The Artful Visual Facilitator with graphic recorder extraordinaire, Avril Orloff. You’ll have a blast, and learn how to create your own visual templates to enhance the power and effectiveness of your facilitated processes.

 

 

 

Using Visuals in Facilitated Meetings and Workshops

“There is no more powerful way to prove that we know something well than to draw a simple picture of it. And there is no more powerful way to see hidden solutions than to pick up a pen and draw out the pieces of our problem.

According to Dan Roam, in The Back of the Napkin, a simple drawing on a humble napkin can be more powerful than the slickest PowerPoint presentation.  As facilitators, we can help our groups clarify problems, and understand ideas better, by using a simple set of visual tools. Our experience at Masterful Facilitation Institute confirms Roam assertion that almost everyone seems born with a talent for visual thinking, even those who swear they can’t draw. In our fun and engaging course, The Artful Visual Facilitator, we show you how to use simple lines and shapes to create graphics, visual metaphors, and basic images to help bring meeting results to life.

By adding visual thinking and simple graphic skills to your competencies, not only do you become a more effective facilitator; you also gain a powerful ability to discover, develop and sell new ideas, solve problems in unexpected ways, and dramatically improve your ability to share your insights with others.

Call to Action: Take a few moments to watch Roam’s video on The Back of a Napkin below. If you are a self-directed learner, you may want to buy his book. And if like many of us, you learn best by doing, then consider taking our upcoming course The Artful Visual Facilitator with graphic recorder extraordinaire, Avril Orloff. You’ll have a blast, as you quickly up-level your visual thinking and graphic facilitation skills.

Visual Learners and Participants

Our extraordinary graphic recorder colleague, Avril Orloff recently contributed this article:

Did you know that 50-60% of meeting participants are ‘visual’ learners?  Enhance focus, understanding and retention – just by adding a few simple drawings, symbols and colour to flipcharts as you facilitate.

Most of us already think in pictures. It’s no accident that many of the expressions we use to denote understanding are visual: “Do you see what I’m saying?”, and “I see your point!”  

The fact is most ideas can be made clearer with a picture. Plus, let’s face it: meetings with visuals are just way more fun! So add some visual techniques to your facilitation palette, and watch your meetings go from good to great!

Call to Action:

Compelling Focus Question

You’ve got a complex workshop or longer group session coming up that you’ve been asked to facilitate. Compared to short, straightforward meetings, your success as a facilitator requires that you devote much more time scoping and design before participants ever walk into the room.

A compelling Focus Question as part of the meeting invitation will bring the attention of the group to the topic, subject or work, and invite creative responses. You may find it helpful to think through the Focus Question with ANSWER:

A – What is the aim of the work, or overall purpose?
N – What is the name or subject, to be discussed?
S – Who cares about this purpose and subject, i.e., who has a stake in this?
W – Who will be participating, and are they the right people for the work?
E – What experience do you want participants to have during/after the session?
R – What relevant factors and constraints are important?

Call to Action:

Commit to becoming a more agile and professional masterful facilitator in 2013! Register today for one or more of our upcoming classes in advanced facilitation: The Agile Facilitator (Calgary); The Engaging Facilitator (Calgary) and The Strategic Facilitator (Metro Vancouver).

Just starting out? These courses will enhance your facilitation confidence and empower you with solid foundational skills: The Confident Facilitator (Vancouver); The Skillful Facilitator (Vancouver).

Bring These Courses In-House!

What’s Changing?

Once your group, organization or business is clear on its mission , who they serve and the core values that guide the way we do things around here, the next set of process questions in strategic planning relate to scanning the present and anticipated future operating context.

What is changing in our external context?

The examination of the external environment is essential to understanding the complexities, uncertainties and possibilities for change. Your business or organization does not exist in a vacuum. Everyone involved in setting new strategic directions needs to develop a big picture view of significant factors and trends with the potential likely to influence your future success. Typical scan categories include the political environment, economic climate, social, technology along with sector/industry/discipline-specific arenas.

What is changing for our customers/stakeholders?

(Drucker’s question #3 is: What does the customer value?) Your future goals must anticipate and respond to the changing needs and realities of your key customers and stakeholders. Your strategic plan must not only ensure your organization delivers on their current expectations of value; it must anticipate or create what their future needs are likely to be. Insights are gained through research, focus groups or other discovery and learning conversations.

What are strategic innovation possibilities?

Whether for-profit or social-non-profit, your organization’s strategic plan must consider emerging best practices, leading-edge innovations, key drivers, core competencies and changing rules for success.

Call to Action:

The Masterful Facilitation Institute exists to build your confidence and skills as an effective facilitator so you can design and facilitate great meetings – every time, for any purpose.

If you are an executive, manager, strategic planner, change agent, or any leader seeking to facilitate productive, positive and aligning strategic planning meetings and change initiatives, sign up for The Strategic Facilitator: Aligning Around Vision and Strategy in Vancouver, BC, June 4-6, 2012.

You will understand how to guide the entire process of strategic planning, from clarifying why you exist as a group or organization, to assessing your current situation, describing your desired future state, establishing the strategies that will propel you forward, and determining how you’ll know if you’ve succeeded.

Why Are You Meeting?

“Clarity of meeting purpose is a sweet weapon against confusion.” — Toke Palludan Moeller.”

Groups meet not only to get work done, but also to build relationships and the social capital required for successful collaboration after the meeting. However briefly, this human need for interaction with others should always be factored into your meeting.

Remember though, that the key to focused and productive meetings is the reason you are meeting in the first place. Be clear on your meeting purpose from the start. Generally, most meetings fall under three broad types of purposes:

1. To inform and update participants. (Typical Length: .5 to 1.5 hours).

2. To obtain input and/or generate consensus around issues, problems and plans. (Typical Length: 2-3+ hours; sometimes over several weeks/months).

3. To develop and implement strategy and change. (Typical Length: 1-3 days annually; 1-3 hours quarterly).

As you plan your meeting, ask yourself this question: “Why are we meeting and what do we hope will be different as a result?” Having this clarity will greatly assist you in planning your agenda and facilitation processes.

Start your meeting off with a clear explanation of that purpose to participants, for example: “When you walk out, you’ll be current on the status of our top priority projects; your ideas are essential to the resolution of this issue; and, finally, we need to align on new future directions and the plans to achieve them.” If you do need to meet, then being clear on your meeting purpose is the first step in achieving focused and productive meetings.

Call to Action:

The Masterful Facilitation Institute exists to build your confidence and skills as an effective facilitator so you can design and facilitate great meetings – every time, for any purpose.

Check out our upcoming Effective Meeting Skills – The Confident Facilitator and Advanced Facilitation Skills for Building Group Consensus Around Issues & Solutions – The Agile Facilitator courses in May and June in Vancouver. Every course we offer is grounded in decades of professional facilitation practice and adult education, and is certain to improve your meeting productivity.

Not sure which course to take? Read the path to Effective Facilitation to get started now.