Is a facilitator really needed? There is a broad mix of opinions. Facilitators are seen as invaluable by some, whilst others see it as a luxury that should not be needed if you are a strong leader. A changing business environment is driving the need to focus on better facilitated meetings, but there are times when you can run meetings as a leader and don’t need an objective third party.
What is facilitation?
A simple definition I use is “Enabling meetings to be successful by running the group process, allowing team leaders and participants to focus on the content of the meeting”. This definition helps to clarify a facilitator vs team leader role. Implicit within this definition is that a facilitator enables high quality of conversation and participant engagement crucial to achieving strong buy in to the outcomes of the meeting. This frees up the team leader to engage in content discussions allowing them to advocate their position whilst knowing a neutral facilitator will support them in engaging the rest of the group.
Why is facilitation important?
There are many reasons why facilitation is growing in importance, including complexity of the challenges organisations face, the constant change and churn in teams, the need to take into account cross functional and diverse opinions and the absolute essential of employee engagement. Meetings are important to engage and hear all stakeholder views, but more than ever have to use peoples time well which is not always the case. Technology has an important role especially as a more efficient way of exchanging information but in the complex world we are working in we also need to have a strong dialogue that can only be created in high quality face to face group meetings. Maybe having a facilitator is important?
When should you go it alone?
Like other business skills facilitating a meeting is something that can be developed with experience. As a group leader, when should you go it alone?
1. When the problem is simple
Simple problems need a simple process to resolve. You just need to get a few people around a table, define the problem and come up with ideas to resolve and agree who will action. This kind of problem often is one that is not cross functional in nature and you probably already have some good ideas on how you can resolve. Maybe you don’t even need a meeting?
2. When you just need to inform
You may already have defined a way forward, or just need to inform others about what is going on. You are getting the group together so they can develop or take on roles that are needed to deliver. You don’t need to significantly change the way they are working or get significant buy in.
3. When your group is high performing
When the group has been working together for a while and have implicit or explicit ways of working. For example, each member comes well prepared with a clear outcome in mind for their portion of the agenda. Actions are completed between meetings and the purpose of the meeting is clear.
4. When your team shares the roles a facilitator usually takes
When each of your group members are able to share the load of running the meeting. For example, someone records key points / actions visibly during the meeting, someone else keeps time, or checks that the group is sticking to their agreed ways of working (not going off topic or “down rabbit holes”)
5. When you actively design your meetings and have little stake in the outcome
You think about what each meeting needs, and then how you will get there most effectively using the range of tools you have seen work in meetings. You design the right process to match the desired meeting output and consider the prework that needs to be done to have an effective meeting. You recognize that when you convene a group of people together you are using their precious time and plan the meeting accordingly. In the meeting, you don’t need to direct the content and can focus on ensuring all voices are heard.
In all of the scenarios above you don’t need a facilitator. Isn’t it lucky that our problems are simple, we don’t need group buy in, our groups are high performing and that we are skilled in group processes? Oh, wait a minute….
Thanks to Catrin Guynan for her challenging and thoughtful insights