At certain times it is advisable to bring in a professional to facilitate, or conduct, your meeting. The facilitator guides meeting participants through a specific agenda and employs techniques that assist participants as they work to identify key issues, analyze problems, discover opportunities and organically create strategies, decisions, actions and time tables that will lead to resolutions that participants understand and accept.
According to Michael Wilkinson, author of “The Secrets of Facilitation” (2005), examples of appropriate times to call in a professional meeting facilitator are:
1). An important issue has been detected or a major problem has surfaced.
2). The solution to a vital issue is not apparent and deeper understanding and analysis of the problem are required.
3). Buy-in is needed for a solution to be successful and it is likely that the required solution will need the acceptance of key stakeholders. A change in behavior or methods may be necessary, without which the solution will fail.
When a professional meeting facilitator is called upon to conduct your very important meeting, time and money are not wasted. The facilitator works with the meeting convener to select the best participants for the meeting, who become the planning team for the issue at hand.
Who are the team leaders of departments that will control decisions likely to be made? Who are the team leaders of departments that will be impacted by those decisions? Who are the pivotal team members in those departments, those most likely to formulate strategies, implement actions and/or live with the fall-out? These factors impact the selection of planning team participants.
Once the convener has worked with the facilitator to choose the team, the facilitator conducts brief, individual interviews with them. The facilitator explains to team members why they have been invited to participate and what the convener would like to achieve in the meeting. The facilitator then asks questions of participants in order to gauge alternative viewpoints regarding the history of the issue, resolutions attempted and failed, possible barriers to resolution and factors that may be critical to creating resolution.
The facilitator shares this data with the convener and together they create an agenda for the planning session and also determine how much time will be needed to work through it and arrive at solutions. The convener then schedules a mutually agreeable meeting time and confirms specifics in writing, ASAP.
If pre-meeting data need to be generated, the convener either assembles the data or assigns the task to the appropriate staff. In advance of the meeting, the convener sends the agenda to the planning team, along with data that must be reviewed.
At the meeting, the facilitator gives an overview of the process the team will use to examine and analyze the issue and create solutions and then reviews the agenda. The facilitator also gets agreement on meeting ground rules: e.g., no surfing of electronic gadgets, no interrupting, no “opting out”, etc.
The facilitator then goes about the work of conducting the meeting. He/she asks provocative questions that will stimulate thoughtful analysis; leads the team in brainstorming useful ideas; generates enthusiastic participation; and captures participant responses on flip charts, for documentation. The facilitator motivates the team to delve into the issues and devise solutions.
Where there is disagreement over an approach to a problem, the facilitator works to find consensus and accommodation. Solutions that emerge in facilitated meetings work because the key stakeholders are always present. Their perspectives and priorities shape and create the solutions that arise and therefore they buy into them. They own them and they value them. As Michael Wilkinson has pointed out, an effective decision = the right decision x commitment to the decision.
The facilitator transfers the decisions, actions and follow-up from flip charts to Word documents and sends that info to the convener ASAP, who then disseminates to the team. Additionally, the facilitator may reconvene the team for a half day meeting in 45-90 days, to ensure that team members are following through, allow the team to measure the impact of solutions, make necessary alterations and maintain project momentum and commitment.
In professionally facilitated planning meetings, business objectives are invariably achieved and implemented in a timely and cost effective manner.
Thanks for reading,