Thursday, July 03, 2014

7 of 11: Suggested Facilitation Strategies - Striking the Right Level of Visibility and Intervention (Saying enough, but not saying too much)

As the Facilitator, how do you go about striking the right level of visibility and intervention in your workshop - walking that fine line between saying enough and not saying too much?

Here are some suggested strategies:

(1) Prepare a script for yourself (and edit this during the meeting).  Whether you tend to say too much or too little, this can really help.  Write out key points to communicate to the group about the desired outcomes of the meeting as a whole, the process and methodology of each session, and questions to put to the group to check in on progress.  This will help you make sure you keep on message and say enough, without saying too much.

(2) Repeat yourself without being overly repetitive.  When it comes to groups of people with diverse language skills and learning styles, it is really important to reinforce your messages without repeating yourself in a time-consuming and tedious fashion.  Consider, for example, writing the outline agenda on a flipchart sheet in the room which you keep coming back to, ticking off as you progress through the sessions, and reminding people of the logic of the agenda – connecting what you’ve done (lightly) with where you are heading next.  Similarly, have your desired outcomes visible in the room for reference. 

(3) Be careful about those brief briefings. When briefing a specific session, remember that people digest info in different ways. Some people understand better reading than just hearing what you’d like them to do, whilst others need to talk about something to make sure they have understood.  Write up (on a flipchart or slide) details such as questions for discussion, how much time they have, what and how they should capture the discussion, and how they will share it with everyone afterwards.  Having briefed the session, ask participants in the group to summarize back to everyone the task, checking whether anyone else understood it differently.  And/or ask questions to the group test whether they are listening (e.g. So, if we have 30 minutes, at what time are we going to reconvene – according to your watch?)   

(4) Aim to ask questions rather than make statements.  Asking a powerful question you can make a great intervention, leading participants down a path of questioning, whilst allowing them the space to respond as a group.  If you aim to ask questions rather than making statements, you are less likely to say too much, and participants are more likely to listen to what you do say.

(5) If you have a tendency to take an overly visible (and vocal) role in a group, design in more small group work and less plenary... You can’t be in all small groups at once! 

(6) Be sure to focus what you do say on the process.  Beware speaking about the content, unless relating the content to the process and progress on the task.

6 of 11: Suggested Facilitation Strategies - Working as a Facilitator With and Without Subject Matter Expertise

How can you have confidence in achieving the desired outcomes when you're not a subject matter expert; and also when you ARE a subject matter expert (but your role is as facilitator)? Consider the following:

(1) Remember that it is better to know little about the subject matter but all about designing a great process to achieve the desired outcomes, than to know everything about the subject but little about process! Mastering the art of client briefing conversations and designing great, detailed agendas are key.  

(2) Remind yourself that facilitators do not need to be subject matter experts (and often are not!) What facilitators need to do is ask the right questions to the client (who may or may not be subject matter experts themselves).  It is paramount that you fully understand – and are sufficiently conversant in – the context of the meeting and what it hopes to achieve.  It is the role of the participants in the room to bring the required expertize.  Your role is to guide the process.

(3) If you are a subject matter expert, think about how you can contribute your expertize before entering the workshop room – both in bringing your expert knowledge to the agenda design process, and potentially through your contribution to other preparatory steps.  For example, contribute to a presentation or video to be screened in the session, or reply to a pre-session participant survey, the results from which are used to focus the conversations.  As facilitator - guiding the process - you contribute greatly to the shaping the direction in which the group thinks and progresses, especially through the questions you ask.  Consider how you can do this appropriately, respecting the trust placed in you as a neutral facilitator.

(4) Check-in with the group, as the meeting progresses.  If you feel happy with the energy and results, ask the group:  I feel good and happy about the progress so far, how about you?  If you feel frustrated and feel that they are too, sometimes it may helpful to acknowledge this and simply suggest taking a break whilst you have a rethink.  You may find it was just fatigue and that people come back refreshed and thinking more clearly with renewed energy and confidence in achieving the desired outcomes.

Related blog posts:

No Such Thing as a Pointless Question: The Impact of Simply Asking

Leveraging the Wisdom of Crowds in our Organization