(Note: This is sample text from CHAPTER 8 of THE CULTURE GAME BOOK, available on Amazon here)
CHAPTER EIGHT: FACILITATE YOUR MEETINGS
Facilitated meetings tend to be focused, organized, and well defined. When you clearly describe who qualifies to attend, what the goal is, what the boundaries are, and how you will manage the meeting, you create an invitation to explore the topic or issue. The convener has the luxury to participate more fully and observe without the additional responsibility to run the entire meeting. Facilitators are there to keep meetings flowing and to end on time. A facilitated meeting requires you to organize yourself in advance of the meeting.
Facilitated meetings are essential if you intend to become great as a group. Meetings are useful only when the objectives, agenda, and duration are all clearly stated and in alignment. Use facilitators to stay organized, complete meeting agendas, and learn faster as a group. Leverage facilitation to attain group focus while pursuing greatness inside your teams as well as in the wider organization. Develop a norm of focused meeting greatness.
History and Origins of the Practice
Scrum is the world’s most popular framework for high-performance teams to build software and other complex products. Someone facilitates every meeting in Scrum, and there is a clear reason why. Facilitated meetings tend to encourage learning and the mixing of ideas, because facilitated meetings tend to create a space where everyone gets a chance to be heard, even the genuine introverts in the room.
How This Helps
By establishing a clear goal, a clear set of rules, and a clear way to track progress, you make any game enjoyable. A good game makes for good learning, and meetings are no exception. Facilitated meetings tend to be well planned, have the right participants, and a clear set of rules. Meetings for brainstorming and dialogue are especially well suited for facilitation. The facilitator can defer any movement towards the premature end of a discussion and too early a decision, and keep the space open for inquiry. When the time is appropriate for the group to decide, the facilitator can assist in moving in that direction.
A good meeting serves a stated purpose through its structure. To structure a meeting to be more divergent, focus primarily on generating ideas. Meetings focused on the need for decision-making tend to be convergent. A good facilitator helps by structuring a meeting to match the purpose. When one meeting needs to accomplish both purposes, a good facilitator can help deflect premature movement of the group from dialogue to decision-making.
There are no hard-money (cash) costs for this step. You can choose to start using facilitated meetings formats immediately. A good practice is to have a person from outside your group to facilitate your meeting. Later you can return the favor, and send over one of the people from your team to facilitate the meetings of the other group. The net cost is zero in terms of time, as you will be swapping people to perform facilitation services for each other. This technique begins to generate a facilitation culture and creates a mixing of people and ideas and information. This mixing is a form of socialization that further increases sharing of information across departments. Search the web to develop your organization’s facilitation skills inexpensively, to get familiar with facilitation techniques, and experiment with them. The International Institute for Facilitation offers facilitation certification credentialing for those who want to dig deeper into specific facilitation competencies and practices.
Results and Related Delays
A well-facilitated meeting tends to have a clear purpose, stays on track, and is productive with just the right level of structure. Facilitated meetings tend to be enjoyable and productive. These benefits tend to manifest immediately.
Facilitated meetings are generally better than meetings that are not. Participants learn to enjoy having someone besides the convener in a role that is responsible only for steering. Breaking out the responsibility for facilitation from the sole authority of the convener will smooth out a meeting and free up the convener to listen and observe.
A decent facilitator can smooth out a meeting by making sure everyone is heard, making sure that loquacious people make space for others, and managing a meeting’s sense of progress and tempo. A facilitator can also encourage greater respect inside a meeting by creating and holding space for dialogue. A facilitator can handle making sure that the convener honors scheduled breaks, as well as the start and stop times. This also supports respect, commitment, and focus on the part of all participants.
A skilled facilitator can also make small adjustments that help the group more easily achieve objectives. Sometimes a group of people meeting to make decisions are actually not ready, and are better off continuing with the dialogue a bit longer, before moving to decision-making and action. A skilled facilitator can sense this situation, and encourage dialogue during that meeting.
Results can vary based on the skill of your facilitator and the complexity of the meetings you are trying to streamline.
Meeting conveners need to be willing to delegate responsibility to the facilitator to run a meeting. When conveners do this, they are not giving up any authority. You may need to elaborate on this theme with some conveners. Facilitators serve meeting conveners, not the other way around. The convener needs to meet with the facilitator to make these boundaries are explicit and well understood.
The facilitator is serving the authority in the room rather than being the authority in the room. A heavy-handed facilitator can unintentionally limit the space for dialogue and turn people off. In general, do not choose an organization’s central authority figure to serve as a facilitator.
Steps and Options
Implementing this practice involves the following steps:
- Socialize the idea of facilitated meetings. Send out some emails about the advantages of facilitated meetings. Purchase some books, and make them available and visible.
- Identify a facilitator. The best facilitator candidate is a person who begs you to try it. Facilitation is an art form and a skill grounded in sociology. Listen and watch carefully for the people who willingly opt-in to try facilitation. Watch out for those who seek authority – the facilitator role is that of a servant-leader, not a boss or autocrat. An overly authoritative facilitator can unintentionally limit the space for dialogue and turn people off.
- Gather some resources for learning. The book GameStorming provides a great set of meeting facilitation ideas and tools. This and other resources can help you develop facilitation skills and ideas. Investigate the International Institute for Facilitation website and related resources.
- Experiment by convening a facilitated meeting. Start facilitating some of your meetings and inspect the results. Let those who express interest in being the facilitator give it a try.
- Inspect the results. Periodically inspect the results and find out if the participants at these meetings are finding the meeting more valuable. Do not assume they do. Inspect the results.
- Develop a culture that includes facilitated meetings. Offer other managers a facilitator from your group, and then switch. Swap facilitators. If you work in a larger organization, develop a community of practice around facilitation.
Takeaways: Facilitate Your Meetings
- Facilitated meetings help increase learning by creating and holding space where everyone can be heard
- Meeting conveners who delegate to facilitators can engage in observation and participation more freely without the burden of running the meeting
- Facilitated meetings tend to have a clear goal and well-understood ground rules and working agreements. This increased safety transforms a meeting into a good game, and increases levels of engagement.
 Learn more about the International Institute for Facilitation at: http://www.inifac.org/
 See Gamestorming: A playbook for Innovators, Rule breakers and Change makers by David Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo