Meeting Facilitation

Why Use an Outside Facilitator?

Everyone who has been part of an organization has experienced frustration with ineffective meetings—it feels like a waste of time and resources.  This is especially true when the subject of the meeting is of crucial importance.  When managers and organizational leaders are focusing on running the meeting instead of participating or when trust between participants is an issue, involvement and progress can be stifled.

An outside “third-party” facilitator can help an organization get the most from a meeting—drawing upon the knowledge and ideas of all of the participants in a neutral environment, where they can be part of developing and owning the solution. Third-party facilitation aligns stakeholders toward a common goal—making all the difference in how the solution will be implemented.

Types of Meetings That Benefit from Outside Facilitation

  • Strategic and Marketing Planning
  • Project Planning
  • Issue Resolution
  • Process Improvement
  • Process Reengineering
  • Information Needs and Analysis
  • Process Modeling
  • Procedure Design

BCLLC Approach to Facilitation Methodology

A meeting that covers a complex array of concepts requiring detailed solutions can be defined more as a workshop than a meeting.  BCLLC approaches meeting and workshop facilitation with many of the same techniques used in the SAVE International Value Methodology and draws from the fundamental structure of the SAVE International value study Job Plan.

There are subtle differences, however, as workshops facilitated where solutions are developed by individuals who are all part of the same organization, have a “history” of challenges working together, or have divergent goals often have more intense group dynamics.

BCLLC uses a variety of techniques to manage group dynamics.  Setting ground rules, providing clear expectations of the group, and keeping an eye out for emerging dysfunctional behavior is key.  Such behavior is usually just a symptom that masks an issue.  These behaviors can include arriving late and leaving early, discussion domination, lack of participation, side conversations, and nay-saying. Preventing dysfunction from escalating can be done by approaching individuals privately or addressing the group as a whole.  It is important to empathize with the symptom, address the root cause, and get agreement on a way to move forward that addresses the person’s concerns.  An objective third-party facilitator usually has an easier time of getting to the bottom of these issues and moving the team forward.

Preparation

BCLLC’s facilitator works with the workshop sponsor to identify the workshop’s purpose and need, and define expected results and criteria for success—and identify the structure of the workshop that will fit these needs.

The facilitator then helps the sponsor identify participants who will help identify problems and causes, and develop workable solutions.  Participants should understand the issue under study, have a stake in the outcome, be empowered to make decisions or recommendations, be perceived as leaders by their peers, and be open to solutions other than their own.  They must include those who will implement the solution.  Establishing participant roles with an eye on their perspectives as stakeholders can help ensure that all groups who will need to buy-into a solution are represented. At this time, a workshop recorder is also identified who can document the proceedings.

At this point, the facilitator works with the workshop sponsor to plan the workshop kickoff meeting, the overall workshop agenda, and the logistics of scheduling, travel arrangements, workshop space, equipment needed, etc.

Information

Before the workshop, the facilitator interviews participants to gain an understanding of the issues at hand.  This is the first step in establishing that their opinions are important, while guiding them in an objective assessment.  A summary of participant insights is then shared with the workshop sponsor.

At the workshop kickoff meeting, the facilitator breaks the ice, sets expectations for participation, provides meeting guidelines and ground rules, walks through the agenda, discusses benefits to be gained, and empowers participants.

For the subject under study, the facilitator lays out the sponsor’s vision of its purpose and need, criteria for success, and what the workshop is to accomplish.  Then, the facilitator lays out insights gained from interviews and gets input from all participants to further define each and note concerns.  It is important to get participant input right from the start.  This process can enlighten the sponsor to issues previously unidentified.

The most important aspect of the kickoff meeting is to develop an understanding of the problem the group has focused on solving, the project’s challenges and constraints, and how the project has reached its current status. Establishing a level of mutual respect of others’ efforts is crucial.  The group is asked to define the subject as it currently exists—what it does now and what it needs to do better.  The group also identifies problems standing in the way and their causes.  The group then defines performance objectives and criteria that will be used to focus the workshop.

Function Analysis

For project planning, process improvement, process reengineering, process modeling, and procedure design, function analysis can be an effective tool to identify what the subject under study must do to meet performance objectives.  Delaying the discussions (and opinions) about how the subject will do it helps the group get to a shared understanding.  Function analysis is an objective, fact-based process that moves the group away emotional attachments and helps the group begin to act as a team.  The group is asked to identify the functions that the subject under study must perform:  What does it do?  What does it do it to?  The functions are then classified and their functional relationships are mapped out.   BCLLC uses tools such as mind mapping and SAVE International’s Function Analysis System Technique (FAST) to thoroughly identify key functions that must be performed.

Creativity

The facilitator first reviews with the group what it determined to be the subject’s purpose and need, criteria for success, and areas of focus for the workshop.  To generate a creative atmosphere, icebreaking and group activities may be used, such as visual puzzles and other techniques to open creativity channels.  Classical brainstorming techniques are then used by the facilitator to ask the group to identify alternate ways to perform the functions.  Brainstorming guidelines are discussed that include:

  • Deferring judgment until the evaluation phase.
  • Welcoming all ideas and keeping an open mind.
  • Thinking creatively—going out-of-the-box and not being afraid to make mistakes.
  • Remembering that no answer is wrong.
  • Not criticizing ideas. As soon as one person expresses doubts about another team member’s idea, it will inhibit others from speaking out.  “Crazy” ideas may trigger a more realistic idea that wouldn’t have been thought of otherwise.
  • Building and expanding on others’ ideas.
  • Focusing on quantity, not quality of ideas.
  • Everyone participating.
  • The group owning the ideas, not individuals.
  • Stopping idea generation only once the team has exhausted ALL ideas, crazy and otherwise.

Based on the criteria for success, the group evaluates the ideas to develop a shortlist of those that should be developed.  BCLLC primarily uses nominal evaluation techniques for the team to identify ideas worth developing and those that are fatally flawed.  Nominal voting using colored dots allows team members to independently evaluate ideas and minimizes the potential for peer influence that can sometimes come from a show of hands.

When voting is complete, the team discusses the strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) of each idea—the thoughts behind the votes and whether the idea may be important enough to elevate as a priority. This is also an opportunity to further clarify ideas.

The goal of the evaluation phase is Consensus. Consensus is “something everyone can live with and support inside and outside the workshop.”  It does not mean majority rule or acquiescence.  Each participant brings valuable information and is an important part of the workshop.  Everyone should participate and all ideas should be considered.

Depending on the nature of the subject under study, development may include incorporating the ideas into a draft strategic or marketing plan, defining a new process or procedure, or illustrating how information or data can be managed.  It should include a clear description of how the idea differs from the current way the existing subject under study performs the function.  Similar to a value study, each idea should be examined for its performance improvements, benefits and risks, and initial and lifecycle costs.

Without a plan for implementing the ideas, the workshop will be a static exercise and will not likely fulfill the purpose or meet the need stated for the subject under study.  BCLLC’s facilitator will work with the study sponsor and participants to develop a schedule for implementation with milestones and objectives to be achieved, who will be responsible for what, how changes will be incorporated into daily operations, and accountability to the plan.  This can be done during the workshop or as a follow-on meeting.

BCLLC prides itself in developing easy-to-read, easy-to-use documents.  Reports and plans are organized to make information easy to find.  Readability is enhanced by using sound graphic design principles, informative headlines, and language that is easy for technical and non-technical readers to understand. The goal of a BCLLC workshop report is that anyone could pick it up and quickly identify the results of the workshop, understand how the results were generated, and find well-organized backup documentation needed to make informed implementation decisions.

BCLLC’s facilitator will work with the workshop recorder to ensure that documentation is thorough, captures key concepts, and can easily be integrated into a plan developed during the workshop and/or a report of the workshop proceedings.

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