I haven’t used Microsoft word in a while but when I used to use it about 10 years ago, I typed the word facilitate and I right-clicked on it and a little drop-down menu showed up with a bunch of synonyms. And one of the synonyms is still to this day my favorite definition or of what it means to facilitate a meeting. When I double-clicked that and I right-clicked the synonym that showed up at the top said, “To smooth the process of..” I loved that idea. In this video, I’m going to share three stories of my own experience as a professional facilitator which my mom is still trying to figure out what that means. I’m going to share three stories that will help you understand what it means to facilitate a meeting.
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I get to work with some of the top universities and organizations on the planet working with some really brilliant educators and leaders helping them to facilitate really powerful meetings. I’m going to share in this video 3 strategies that you can pick up to be a better facilitator to make magic happen and stop wasting time in terrible boring meetings. Let’s get into it.
What is Facilitation?
Let’s be clear what facilitation does not mean. Facilitation does not mean you need to know everything about a subject so that you can just speak at a meeting. Typically, when a boss is going to facilitate a meeting, she is just going to speak, speak, speak, speak, speak, speak, speak, speak. He is just going to speak, speak, speak, speak, speak. That is not facilitation. I think the best form of facilitation is invisible. To smooth the process, you don’t even know what’s happening. There’s somebody in the background that’s moving things along and keeping things going.
I used to work with this organization called World and Conversation. My job was to sit in a circle of eight to ten human beings and talk about really uncomfortable subjects. Really soft fluffy things like long-term conflict, race, relations, politics, religion, etc with no agenda other than to build bridges. My job was to facilitate those conversations with one other person that didn’t look like me. Because in a conversation about race relations, having two white guys lead a dialogue isn’t necessarily a great way to keep a neutral perspective. My lesson from all that work was that a really great facilitator remains as neutral as possible.
There was a conversation I was in where somebody shared a story about their half their family being in the KKK in rural North Carolina. Somebody else who went to a 98% black school in New York City. They’re in the same conversation talking with each other. My job as a facilitator is not to take one side and turn this into an advocacy situation. It’s to smooth the process of them building a bridge. It’s to ask questions to deepen understanding from both sides so that we can have a conversation that’s filled with listening with our ears and not with screaming and yelling with our mouths. That was one area of facilitation that I learned that really powerful lesson to remain neutral.
Assume the Social Risk for Somebody Else
The second situation was I was working at team leadership development center at Penn State University facilitating this half-day team building program for a corporate group that came in. It was a credit union. I had them doing this problem-solving exercise where they had to build this device and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. You know, the whole point of experiential learning or experiential facilitation is to smooth the process of the group working through a problem to figure out how they work so they can do it better, in my opinion. At the end of this exercise we were debriefing. One woman (we’ll call her Susan) turned to her colleague (she was the boss) and said, “Oh, my gosh. I just realized that I did the same thing in this exercise to you that I do at work. You shared an idea it was actually the solution to our problem and I squelched it down because I didn’t think it was right.” What i did as a facilitator in that moment was set a scene that smoothed the process for their communication to get better. That dynamic may have gone on for months and months and years and years until this person eventually quit.
A really great facilitator smooths the process and accelerates the timeline of something. My lesson there was a really great facilitator assumes the social risk for somebody else to be able to say something that they otherwise never would. Isn’t this a lovely video prop plant thing? I keep hitting it. It’s like, “Oh, give me a little haircut or something.”
Be a Momentum Manager
Story number three comes from a good buddy Bill Treasurer who has a consulting company out of Asheville, North Carolina. He introduced this idea that he does with clients that I love. He will lead a workshop or give a keynote or something then he’ll come back afterward and deliver what he calls momentum meetings. I love that concept because a keynote or watching a video like that any type of learning any type of impact or change doesn’t matter at all if you experience it you’re like, “Oh, that was cool.” You just go back to business as usual. The point is as a facilitator, to create some change; to smooth the process of to smooth the progression of a client meeting some sort of goals. My lesson from this idea of momentum meetings is that a really great facilitator is also a momentum manager. There’s somebody that’s paying attention to how fast the meeting’s going or how slow it’s going or how off track it is or how high the energy or how low the energy is. They are a momentum manager. The more that you can remain neutral, the more that you can assume social risk for others and the more that you can be a momentum manager, the better a facilitator you will be.