Facilitation is about organising content.
It’s a bit like putting together this Scottish Highland picture: it’s not just about building a wall that should be robust enough to stand the elements, but also about ensuring that the big picture – in this case the mountain – isn’t lost in the process. It’s about changing perspectives – on the one hand to deal with the details where they’re needed, and also to become more abstract. It’s about empowering a group to work out the best way to put their expertise, ideas and interests together: building a wall that will not fall down at the first stress-test. And it’s about creating a result that is pleasing – that the group can take pride in.
How does it work? What are the essentials of structuring content as a facilitator? This list is not exhaustive!
- Invest time and effort in establishing a joint understanding of and buy in for the goals, deliverables and agenda (structure) of the meeting. A group of people will only feel motivated and dedicated to building a wall if they’ve agreed that’s what they’ve set out to do!
- Ensure joint understanding – this sounds obvious, but most of my speaking in the facilitated meeting is spent on making sure what people want to say is said and heard by the others (i.e. “translating” and summarising complex or unclear messages in the most efficient way possible – active listening). People need to share an understanding of
- where they’re coming from (history, problem or potential),
- whether they have a similar or diverse position on the issue and what that position is/those positions are (consensus/disagreement),
- what people feel is important and relevant or irrelevant (priorities),
- why people feel and think the way they do (rationale),
- how people suggest a problem should be solved or potential achieved (propositions),
- where opportunities for collaboration lie (partnership),
- the way forward (plan) and
- how success will be measurable.
- Recording (visually) the main points of the discussion (see 2.) and how they relate to each other (this is wall-building),
- Interrupting or even disrupting the wall-building to make sure people are still aware of why they’re building the wall, how high it has to be (i.e. in order to frame the mountain) and which stress-tests it will need to withstand. This can involve inviting external expertise – independent – into the group to allow it to question itself,
- Making sure the right people are involved – the evolving and final structure depends on the input received!
- Separating brainstorming (opening out) and prioritising/rating/ranking (funnelling and closing). If you mix these processes, you will not only lose the structure of the content, but also most of the people involved in giving it.
- Ensuring 100 % participation. The results are useless if half the group lets you know at the end of the process that “it’ll never work”.This means structuring the room and time of a meeting to cope with dealing with multiple voices and, interestingly, creating an atmosphere not of power or importance, but of trust and curiosity. Only then will people listen to each other and stop merely thinking about how to say what they’ve probably said at many meetings before…