Achieve Alignment with Facilitation

We’ve all been there. In meetings that lose focus, wander far off topic, and drag on endlessly. Or other meetings where the “discussion” is so tightly constrained and alternative views so unwelcome, any real dialog is stifled.

When the stakes are high and the issues at hand are deeply important to the organization — or involve points that involve differences of opinion or strong emotion — you can’t afford to have unproductive meetings.

A facilitator may not be a magician, but the work they do can bring order, harmony, and clarity to the most critical discussions organizations face. Facilitation makes the group better together, building a synergy that leads to action and results. Let’s take a quick look at what you can expect.

How does facilitation differ from running a meeting?

The critical point of differentiation is that a facilitator helps the group reach their goals as a neutral party, without defining or influencing the outcome. As a leader guiding a group through a structured process, a facilitator is not a contributor to the points of discussion. The facilitator’s objective is to help the group arrive at results that are accepted and understood by the participants. Simply running a meeting, on the other hand, often maintains a tight focus on a set agenda, conveying information, delegating tasks, and working toward a pre-defined outcome.

Who can be a facilitator?

While it might be tempting to tap the CEO or other executive for the role of facilitator, that’s not always the best choice. The traits that allow an individual to excel as CEO are not the same ones that describe the best facilitators. When the facilitator is the CEO, it can be hard for other participants to see past the CEO’s rank. For example, many times participants are reluctant to speak as freely as they otherwise might, which can substantially alter the quality of discussions.

It is possible that facilitators can come from within the ranks of your organization, if they bring the right set of skills and qualifications and are prepared to function in a neutral rather than participatory role. A vital part of facilitation is ensuring that all participants are engaged and contributing. That includes cultivating input from more reticent participants as well as politely preventing stronger — or more senior — participants from controlling the conversation.

An in-house facilitator does face additional hurdles. Ensuring equal engagement in discussion may be difficult because it could be hard for a facilitator to push back against a CEO or superior in a meeting in order to give everyone’s views equal treatment.

A professional facilitator from outside your organization can politely and effectively control the discussion to ensure that all participants are treated equally and ensure that all views are considered, without fear of repercussions. The setting becomes a place of safety and trust.

What situations call for a facilitator?

Strategic planning sessions, off-site retreats, board meetings, innovation sessions, corporate summits, and campaign kick-offs are just some of the situations that benefit from leadership of a professional facilitator. Tough or politically charged discussions and complex issues are more easily resolved when a professional facilitator shepherds the process.

In other words, facilitation makes things easier for the participants and the organization to identify and solve problems and move forward together. Participants and stakeholders have greater opportunity to listen, understand and focus to achieve true collaboration. Discussions become richer because those around the table feel respected and accepted — and more willing to share their views.

What should you look for in a facilitator?

When you’re choosing a professional facilitator to work with your organization, it helps to keep in mind some of the key traits a facilitator should possess. A facilitator should be:

  • Impartial
  • Perceptive
  • Patient
  • Persistent
  • Adaptable

To be effective, a facilitator must be an active listener capable of motivating the group. He or she should have a positive attitude and be skilled at managing emotion and setting the tone for the group. Choose a facilitator with knowledge in your industry or business; especially for retreats or development sessions, the facilitator should be equipped with tools and exercises that will help develop participant skills, promote engagement, and improve the overall process of building the team.

When you engage RoundTable Consulting to facilitate, you’ll be working with a professional who creates a comfortable safe environment for participants while establishing accountability and helping the leadership to achieve alignment and effective communication that cascades throughout the organization.

It all begins with a conversation. Contact me for a free consultation and let’s talk about how I can help your organization achieve the results you need

Nancy Owsianowski is the Founder of RoundTable Consulting where her relational, insightful approach transforms teams, leaders, and organizations.