Facilitating…the art of making a task easier.

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Stop Inviting Everyone To Your Meetings

Do you always have the same people showing up for meetings?  Did you ever wonder why “everyone” is there? If someone was not there, would you even notice? The only thing in life you cannot buy is time, and to invite the wrong people to meetings is wasting everyone’s time.

How do you know who to invite?  That is the question. 

When you are creating your meeting experience, think about what you want to achieve. What is the real reason for this meeting? What is the anticipated involvement from the participants? Each of those items should be considered before you ever send out a meeting invitation.

Sharing information – If you are simply sharing information, why are you meeting? You can share information in many ways; send a memo, record a video using your phone, create a powerpoint, have a contest based on the shared information or simply record a podcast they can listen to while they are driving. Follow up with them to insure understanding.

Setting direction – If your meeting is to set direction for the future, are you including the people who are creating the direction as well as the people who will carry out the direction? Many times we forget to consider “next steps”.  For instance, we create a wonderful PSA and then we fail to determine how we will get people to listen to it. Or we create “white papers” and fail to consider how to get people to read them.

Each person at your meeting should be there for a reason. Do they have information to contribute to the content or the decisions? Do they have the responsibility to participate and carry out the decisions? Are they overseeing the entire project? You should be able to go through your invitation list and see the role for each of the participants. If you cannot reasonably decide what value they bring to the meeting, should you be inviting them? If you invite people who are not relevant to the meeting, you not only waste their time but you also waste the time of the other participants. They are not able to make the most of the time together because the level of commitment is not consistent.

If you want to learn more about the levels of engagement at meetings, I encourage you to attend a 2 day workshop, Meetings That Work. You can find more information about it at http://www.meetingsthatwork.training/  The next class is this November in beautiful Miami Florida. What a great combination – meeting tools and tips and fun in the sun.

Don’t let the sun melt your icebreaker.

ice-cubeWhat is your meaning of ICEBREAKER? For most, it is an activity designed to familiarize the group with each other. Sometimes it goes like this. “Tell me your name, your role and why you are here today?”. Be careful that you don’t start the the meeting off with data that everyone already knows. If you are facilitating a group of people who know each other, you don’t need to introduce them to each other or ask them why they are there. Most likely they are there because someone told them to come and I”m not sure you want to start off your meeting with those answers! You don’t want them to say, “here we go again, another stupid meeting”.

Keep in mind the participants, and their familiarity with each other. The ice breaker is meant to get people used to speaking aloud in the group and to be comfortable with their voice. If someone speaks during a meeting in the beginning, they are more likely to contribute throughout the meeting.

Designing a meeting is like writing a play. Each scene is carefully crafted. The difference is that the actors write their own scripts! You, as a facilitator need to consider what do you want the group to achieve at the end of this meeting and how do you want them to be different or evolve as a result of this event.

Design your “icebreaker” to have meaning that contributes to the outcome of the meeting. If you are meeting over a project that has just been completed, your “ice breaker” can be a discussion around what do the participants remember most about the project. It could be a reflection on how has this project completion affected them or their departments?

If you are looking for “ice breaker” activities, consider the “reason” you are doing it. Is there a communication problem with the group? If so, an ice breaker than brings to light communication problems that can then be discussed as a group, and takes the “blame” off the group for having bad communication. They may recognize habits they personally experience during the discussion and debrief and you can then develop a list of what makes “meaning and effective communication”?

Think about each of your activities and write down on paper, what do you hope to achieve by each one? It will shed some sun light on your design and keep your ice breaker from melting in the sun.

Virtual Engagement Basics

virtual meetingThere is a limited amount of time in every day. We can’t recreate lost time and we can’t buy more time. Maximizing the benefit of any engagement, virtual or in-person will not only minimize frustration of participants but will also engage the participants. Engaged meeting participants do not “check out” and help to create the end product of any meeting encounter.

How do you decide the best engagement methods for virtual events? Here are guiding questions to help you deliver your desired level of engagement.

Is this a delivery of information that has already been decided and you are simply sharing the data?
– Save everyone’s time and deliver the contents via PDF document, recorded video presentation or self directed PowerPoint. There is no need to schedule participants time to all meet at the same time if you simply want to deliver information. You would be better off to schedule a future meeting to “debrief” on the document. What did the recipients “hear” when they read or viewed the document. How was it received? What stood out for you? What are we missing in this effort?

Is this a “committee or board” meeting where the participants know each other?
– Let them engage among themselves during the presentation by allowing them to use the “chat” functions built into technology. You would not have an in person meeting and then tell all of the participants to not talk to each other, so why stop them in a virtual setting?

Do you want feedback and participation during the meeting?
– To engage the participants you need to keep their attention. If you are concerned about “audio feedback”, keep the participants microphones muted and ask them to “chat” or “text” their questions. If you need to un-mute individual people you can. Today’s software allows for individual un-muting as needed.

Let your participants choose their own best methods
– Allow participants to use the best technology for their purposes. Again, most webinar services allow for a combination of phone or computer headset or speakers (voip). Allow your participants to choose which works for them. If you are muting the participants, it will not matter which option they choose. There is nothing more frustrating than to have to tie up a phone line to simply “listen” to a webinar. Listening can be done with computer speakers and leaving the phone line for “communication”.

Be intentional about each of your meetings. Plan them in advance and decide how best to maximize the investment of each of your participants time. How can you get the most engagement and participation at your meetings? What can you do to inspire the participants to tell someone what a “WOW” meeting you hosted virtually?

Another Meeting? Why Are We Here?

Organizations frequently undertake a meeting for committees, strategic planning, action planning, making a decision or other reason for more than one person to work together.   So many times,  one or two people have in their mind, what the answer is before the question is asked.   They are blind to what others think,  what obstacles are in their way, and how the knowledge of the group together can be an incredible powerful solution.  Leaders need to get out of their own way to let the processes of the group knowledge work.  

A typical  “self centered”  meeting may go something like this.  

  • First, you want to tell everyone what you think should be done. 

  • Secondly, you want to tell everyone what you think about what everyone else thinks.

  • Third, you want to tell everyone about how you feel about what other people think.

  • Lastly, you decide you are upset because your way was not the chosen way or as the leader of the group, you choose the easiest path of least resistance.  


Why are we here?
A “focused facilitated conversation” would be different. It is more of a leadership method of running a meeting.  The initial step is to decide why you are all in the same room.  Post in a visible place the question that is the driving focus of the meeting.  It brings everyone together and they know why they are there.  It gives you a visual frame of reference. If the conversation gets de-railed, you have a landing spot to bring it back to the reason for the meeting.  If you don’t have a decision to make or work to be done together and it is simply a “reporting out” meeting, then  would suggest you distribute the reports electronically.  You could follow up that distribution of reports with a meeting if action needs to be taken on the information.  Otherwise, I would simply save peoples time and they will value your meetings more when you make the best use of their time.


People Like to Be Heard
We all acknowledge that most people like to talk and be heard.  Some are shy and only like to talk to one or two people at a time and will not feel comfortable talking in front of a group.  They especially not like to look ignorant in front of their peers.  A great meeting starts with sharing where everyone “is” at that moment.  Ask a question that is easily answered and allows each person to have a voice and establish credibility. Each person’s perspective of why they are there or what is going on that day is different.  Each of those perspectives have an influence on the outcome of the meeting as well as the understanding from the group of each persons point of view.   If  you are reviewing an event or document,  you might want to simply ask, “What role did you play in this project?” or ” What were some of your individual assignments?”  Each person deserves an opportunity to share their participation and  input.  By acknowledging their participation, you are validating that they are an integral part of the “team”.

What Stood Out?
An important part of the process is offering the opportunity for participants to share what was important about this project or event.  You may want to ask each person to pick out something in the report or event that they remember the most.  The relevance of what is recalled by each person is important.  All perspectives will be slightly different. Each of us is working with a different “scene” in our heads and this is an opportunity to know what is important to the others. 

Drive Change
Information is not useful unless it drives change.  What is the impact of the information your meeting is sharing?   How does the information shared affect the outcome of the committee, project or event?  You may want to ask a question such as, “How will this information we talked about today, affect our committee goals?”  or “what issues do we need to resolve to move forward?”  The group is then taking the information it has learned about,  internalizing it and picking out parts that need to be further addressed.  It saves you from reviewing every piece of data whether relevant or not.  It allows you to quickly surface issues that need to be addressed.

Take Action
Lastly, making a note of the issues brought up in the previous step,  ask the group,  what should we do next?  or what should we do with this report at this time?   These are actionable items that “close the loop”.  You have shared information, personalized it for each person,  gotten feedback and reflection and now as a group you are deciding, what next?

Participatory planning like this is the basis of the Technology of Participation (Top) Methods of Facilitation. The methods can be used in person or virtually.  If your organization would benefit from a meeting using a facilitator, look for a ToP trained facilitator.  If you want to learn more about how to use these methods within your own organization,  attend a ToP training event.  

You can find more information on ToP training at www.top-training.net.

Laurie Dougherty, CAE
ToP Trained Facilitator

Facilitator, a word with a 1000 meanings.

To those who have never been in a well run  (facilitated meeting), the word facilitator has about the same meaning as meeting coordinator, meeting manager or even representative of the person in charge.   I used to think that too.  After many years, my interpretation of facilitator then moved to simply an independent person who kept the meeting on track.  I used to think that too!  

Now I understand that a great facilitator is one that has a comprehensive understanding of the intent of the meeting, works with the meeting owner to design a meeting that fills the needs of the group and yet insures that all voices are heard.   It is no longer simply a meeting “manager” or a cookie cutter strategic planner.   Each group is different and they need to be engaged in designing the outcome so that there is 100% support of the results.

I laugh sometimes when I google the word facilitator.  It can mean someone who provides intake services for inmates, intake for patients at a hospital, supervisor in a manufacturing facility, or teacher.   My hope is that everyone at sometime in their life, gets to experience the energy, and outcome potential that can be achieved using a dynamic, skilled and intuitive facilitator.

What does “facilitator” mean to you? 

Over 500 years of experience……..and play doe.

Today I facilitated a group of 23 association members including Board, Past-Board, Committee Chairs, Committee Members and in-active members. There may have been a few non-members too. Our goal today, was to revisit our Mission, Vision, Value, Goals and Objectives. Most of you are probably saying, how can you do that in a day? Well sometimes you just have to do with the time that you are given to accomplish the task.

In the group, the most senior member had been in the industry for 56 years. The newest member had been in the industry for 3 years. Our participants ranged both in career category, demographic and age. Of the 23 people, 15 knew each other well. The other 8 were somewhat familiar with the other volunteers.

Being familiar with this group, I knew they would try and multi-task with their phones unless I get them 100% engaged in this process. Secondly, I needed to keep their hands busy so that they would not reach for their phones. Each person was given a personal size container of play doe. The type of play doe you give your children. It was awesome. People would be molding the play dough as they spoke, negotiated and discussed. Some of them were creative with the play doe. Some even made mission related icons from it. We capture pictures of the creations. You could hear the laughter and the smiles as they discussed and created.

We additionally had seating assignments for the participants. The current Board members were dispersed among the groups of 4-5 members in each group. After each step of the work accomplished, we celebrated, took a quick break and the board members all rotated one table to their left. That way, the had the opportunity to lead and participate in a variety of conversations with new participants each time.

Another consideration was allowing the most conversation and dialog possible in the least amount of time. Knowing that everyone would want to be heard and we didn’t have time to listen to each individual one at a time, we used group dynamics to filter down ideas. Groups brainstormed at each step, and narrowed their own choices to the limited few. The group then combined the top choices from each group and eliminated duplicates.

It worked very well and was not at all redundant to the group as I had feared. In fact, after the first couple of rounds, their expectations made them more efficient.

Lastly, during the introductions, we asked each participant to also list their super hero name on their nametag. Although we did not take the time to call out each of the names during the introductions, many of them were called their super hero names by the participants in their working groups. I’m sure that many of their “super hero” names will follow them for years to come.

All in all, it was a great day, full of energy, participant, great snacks, hot breakfast and working hot lunch. Although we would have liked to take the group overnight for a two day retreat or spread this out over a few sessions, we achieved our mission in a fun and engaging way.

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