Good morning! Welcome to your first meeting of the day. You’re here to kick off your department’s next big project. But, for 30 minutes, people from different teams talk in circles about their views of the project. Instead of getting the project off the ground, people are quietly pushing micro-agendas and feeding into office politics. The meeting adjourns with the promise to reconvene in a few weeks…if everyone’s calendars can align!
If you regularly participate in office workgroups, you have probably lived this frustrating experience at least once and have no interest in repeating it. So, how can you make your workgroups more productive? You need a guide – a neutral third-party who can navigate roadblocks, maximize focus, and channel the group’s potential. In the design world, we call this person a facilitator. And it’s relatively easy to become the facilitator your next workgroup needs.
Five Easy Steps to Facilitating
A successful facilitator has five main responsibilities:
- Make a plan.
- Be the guide.
- Set and reinforce clear expectations.
- Manage energy and personalities.
- Keep the momentum going.
Make a Plan
A facilitator guides each session with a detailed plan. Plans provide structure and meaning. To create an effective plan, you need to understand the collaborators’ personalities, the issues they want to solve, and their goals. When you have this information, you can choose the tools and activities that will bring the most value to the session.
For example, if your team wants to optimize an existing operational process, you might consider structuring the session around a retrospective tool that allows participants to share what they know. This will identify current processes that are useful, potential enhancements to these processes, and gaps that should be filled. Our Start, Stop, Continue tool in the IBX Innovation Toolkit is a great resource for retrospective work like this.
Pro tip: Always plan for multiple outcomes. A team’s goals may change after some exploration as a group, or a tool might not work for a particular team. Have backups that you can pivot to, just in case.
Be the Guide
A facilitator is an expert on facilitating, not content. At the beginning of a project, it’s easy for participants to get lost in the details of planning. As a guide, your role is to keep the participants focused on project goals and encourage the flow of great ideas. You can do this by creating a collaborative environment. This mindset also helps you to stay neutral and minimizes any personal bias.
Set and Reinforce Clear Expectations
A facilitator cultivates a safe space where participants can bring their best selves and their best ideas. Successful collaboration happens when everybody is on the same page, but sometimes that can seem like a lofty goal. At the beginning of each session, set the tone by addressing the behavioral expectations and the goals for the day.
Language matters, so be inclusive and expansive. Arrive at the session with a pre-written set of behavioral agreements to discuss, but let participants add their own or edit existing wording to improve participation and buy-in. This may not eliminate conflict, but if everyone can agree to approach differing opinions with a respectful, open mindset, the group’s chances of success will improve dramatically.
For example, we like to include an agreement point where people feel comfortable speaking through the lens of their own experience. However, speaking for someone else is discouraged.
Manage Energy and Personalities
A facilitator sets and manages the emotional tone and energy of the room. Group participants will rely on you to set the meeting tone. They might reflect the energy you bring to the group, or they might need you to provide energy if they don’t bring their own.
Since the team’s energy level can vary meeting to meeting, read the room and assess the group’s current energy. Showing up with a smile and authentic excitement about the day’s goals will help motivate everyone. It is also important to recognize that energy is finite, and many folks have limited capacity (looking at my fellow introverts in the house!). Include easier tasks and breaks as buffers before and after critical, high-energy activities.
Managing personalities can be trickier – folks with lots of confidence tend to make their voices louder than others. Power dynamics within the group may influence how much a person is willing to contribute. To elevate all voices, be strategic about who attends each session, use smaller breakout groups, or create a space for written and individual contributions that can be discussed later with the full group.
Keep the Momentum Going
The job of a facilitator doesn’t end after the session closes. As the guide for your group, you may need to schedule additional time for more collaboration or to follow-up on next steps. Establishing a consistent meeting cadence will provide a timeline to keep everyone focused on the project.
You don’t have to be a public speaker or a subject matter expert to be a great facilitator. If you do your homework and practice these five responsibilities, you will see improved levels of collaboration, successful project implementation, and greater overall satisfaction with your final product.
Visit innovation.ibx.com for more information about innovation behaviors and tools.