Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Facilitation first aid - be ready.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I was at a client sales meeting for several days recently and participated in a planning exercise with breakout groups. It was all run by a third party that provided some planning tools and facilitators. While the exercise was good, it could have been better if the facilitation was a bit more skillful.

If everyone in Marketing Management should be able to write an effective presentation, I think they should also have some basic facilitation skills to actively lead a meeting.  Anyone can be a reasonably good facilitator with a little practice and few rules to keep them between the lines. Even if you are not the person holding the marker, you may well be a participant who can help out in a pinch if it’s not going well.

At the meeting there were two common mistakes worth pointing out. In the breakout, the facilitator acknowledged someone’s comment but did not write it down with the other notes on a flip chart. I thought that the contributor had made a good point, so I jumped in and said that.  I could also see that he was a bit miffed.  Despite my “piling on” the facilitator still failed write it down. She had a response in mind and was looking for someone to say THAT.

When all 150 of us came back together in the big room with each group’s top 3 ideas the facilitator put up several charts: Group 1 ideas, Group 2 ideas, and so on. Then she solicited the group to vote by clapping for the best overall ideas. “Hey” she exclaimed in the middle of it all “you can’t just vote for your own ideas!”  This breakdown happened precisely because she assigned the ideas to their originating group when she posted them.

Here are five simple rules to keep in mind when you have the “power of the pen”:
  1. Write down the comments, in their own words. Ask people to “headline it” if it’s too long.
  2. Write down all the comments, sort later.
  3. Unless you have a good reason to do otherwise, once the comment goes up it belongs to the group. That way the group can delete it, elevate it or modify it without reference to its contributor.
  4. Be completely neutral. You can’t be a referee and score a goal. If you have a bias you will lose the trust of the group. Game over.
  5. Don’t let the ground rules of the session be violated without taking some action. They are not rules unless they are enforced.

If it all goes well, those simple guidelines will get you to your destination. If, however, there is conflict or dysfunction in the group it can be very challenging without a toolkit of practiced techniques. That is the next level and a good reason to seek out some expert training if you think you are going to use this skill set in your role. I learned facilitation from a pro named Michael Wilkinson in Atlanta who has literally written the book on it. If you are interested there are resources here. I use the learning all the time, particularly to get a group to a consensus.

There are many opportunities for Marketers to quickly get to better solutions through group problem solving. Leaders can actively facilitate sessions that last an hour not a day: ideation and selection,  rough planning, defining and agreeing to simple processes are a few examples.  It can create a much more purposeful and productive meeting.

Now, which ones are the whiteboard markers again?

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013


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