Whether you’re planning a risk workshop, a strategic review or a project planning session, good facilitation skills are a must. Being able to help a group of people arrive at a common understanding, having elicited everything needed to move the work on, is a crucial skill for today’s managers. From running a team meeting looking at feedback from an employee survey to kicking off a multi-million dollar program, success is often down to being able to facilitate effectively.
Here are three simple steps to facilitating any work session.
Step 1: Before the Meeting
Plan, plan, plan!
Facilitation is more than having an agenda and turning up at the allotted time.
A facilitated session needs a clear objective. What are you having the session for? Is it a risk workshop? Is it a feedback session, or will you be creating a WBS? Set the objective. Everything else needs to link to the objective. If an activity or discussion point doesn’t link the objective, don’t do it.
Facilitation involves planning the activities that will happen in the meeting. You’ve got a wide range of techniques to choose from. A common structure for workshops and facilitated sessions is to use the following agenda:
- Introductions to everyone in the room, unless everyone knows each other already
- Set the scene and the objective for the meeting, reiterating why you are all there. This could be a short presentation, and if it’s about the context of a project, it’s useful for the project sponsor to do the talking at this point.
- Input from people present. This can take lots of forms, from small group brainstorming to large group discussion, using group decision making techniques or any other way of gathering input to help meet the objectives.
- Consolidate the input. Get someone to act as spokesperson for each small group, or summarise key decisions taken. Find a way to bring the input together constructively, focusing on the suggestions the group has decided to take forward.
- Clarify next steps. State what is going to happen after the meeting. There are short term and longer-term actions so be clear what you expect from other people and what you are taking on yourself. Make sure actions have owners and dates by which they are expected to be completed.
- Meeting closes.
Think about how long you want to allocate to each part of the agenda so you can keep time on the day.
Before the meeting, you’ll also want to make sure you have the supplies you need to lead the session. You can’t easily do a brainstorming session without something for attendees to write on, for example, and sticky notes are the favored stationery of choice up and down the country for this kind of thing! Pack enough pens and flip chart paper, or make sure your digital tools are up to the job if you are going paperless.
Finally, before the meeting make sure to send out an agenda. It’s the easiest way to let people know what to expect at the session. In particular, specify what you need them to think about in advance, or if you want them to get feedback from their colleagues to bring along. The better prepared everyone is, the easier it will be to meet the objectives of the meeting.
Step 2: During The Meeting
On the day of the meeting, get to the room early and set up your equipment. Plug in your laptop (did you bring an extension cable specifically for that purpose?) or get the flip chart paper up on the walls. Be ready for your attendees so you can start the meeting promptly.
Run the session according to your agenda. Note down any actions as they are discussed – it’s a good idea to have a separate list somewhere for this.
Keep an eye on the time. By all means be flexible if the discussion is good and in full flow, but step in to make sure you have time to manage all the points on the agenda. Timekeeping is a huge challenge for new facilitators, and it can help to designate someone the ‘timekeeper’ for the day. You can also have visual timekeeping clues like a huge clock or an egg timer, and limit people to certain slots for presenting back discussion points from their group, for example.
The ‘parking lot’ is another useful timekeeping tool. This is a separate list used to record ideas and thoughts for another day. If someone comes up with a good suggestion, but it’s not connected to the meeting objective, put it on the parking lot for discussion in another meeting. These items can be listed on the agenda, and you can even take an action point away to schedule a time to discuss them in more detail.
Step 3: Follow Up After
After the meeting, you still have work to do.
If you weren’t typing the notes as you go (which can be hard to do if you are also trying to facilitate a discussion) then you’ll need to get these typed up ready for distribution. Take photos of anything stuck to the walls so you have a visual reminder of what was discussed. You can send these photos out with the minutes or notes from the meeting.
You’ll also have an action list. Check in with any action owners to make sure they understand their responsibilities. Note down the actions in your task management tools, such as enterprise project management software. Book any follow up meetings that need to happen.
The session is only the start. So much of the ‘real’ work happens after the meeting has provided direction for whatever it was you were discussing.
There’s a lot more to successful facilitation than we can fit in this article, but the above three steps give you a simple framework to planning your own meetings. When it isn’t appropriate for you to be facilitating the session, or your expecting some challenge, or you simply want to be able to fully participate in the discussion yourself without having to worry about facilitation too, then consider getting in an expert consultant to help with the session.