Good meeting facilitation puts an end to those purposeless exchanges that seem to go on forever. Unproductive meetings often take ages, with disagreements galore and colleagues either fighting each other or fighting sleep. Only for your teams to end up where they started: a problem and with no solution. That's why good facilitation is crucial for an agile team.
What is a Meeting Facilitator
Facilitation is the art of guiding a team of people throughout a process to reach a collaborative solution. Facilitators are experts at leading groups through crucial meetings and conventions. Their role is to help participants stay involved, to lead discussions and conversations, and to identify and solve problems as they arise. The right meeting facilitator can take any meeting from disorganized and pointless to productive and successful.
If your creative process is founded on the flawless exchange of ideas between your team members, then working on your team's facilitation skills is more crucial than you may realize.
Why facilitation skills are critical in boosting teamwork
71% of meetings are unproductive, and you (or your teams) have probably attended at least one of these. The question is, how many of those meetings are counterproductive because of an ineffective facilitator? You'll be surprised. Of all the meetings that you or your agile teams find ineffective, there's a high chance that a significant number of them are not the team member's fault but the facilitator's. Your agile team is halfway the distance to reaching their creative goals once they find the right facilitation skills.
Duties a good meeting facilitator performs:
1. Plan meetings
There's a lot that goes on before your team meets somewhere and has a creative discussion. Somebody has to decide the members, venue, topic of discussion, and even the time of discussion. The facilitator has to make all these decisions in a manner that encompasses the needs of all team members. For example, the venue would be better off on the ground floor than the fifth floor if one of your team members has a disability.
2. Ensure equal participation
A team, and its subsequent ideas, is only as strong as its weakest link. That said, it's crucial that all team members take part in a discussion. Without effective facilitation, some members of your team will be left out of the discussion. Even worse, some of your meetings may become monopolized. This is a situation where those at the apex push forward their ideas while neglecting those at the bottom.
3. Remain unbiased when resolving issues
The disagreements and challenging of ideas that define constructive conflict require an effective facilitator to moderate. There is a thin line between creative and destructive conflict, and it takes an unbiased moderator to know this difference. Without this role carried out effectively, the disagreements and productive conflict can escalate into unproductive disputes between employees.
4. Implement conflict resolution strategies
You've seen how an effective facilitator goes a long way in helping navigate and put productive conflict on track. Nobody likes to admit it, but unproductive conflicts are unavoidable in team meetings; in fact, they are a necessity in the growth and bonding of a team. Nonetheless, without the proper guidance from a facilitator, unproductive conflict can escalate easily and have long-lasting effects on the general psyche and well-being of a team. An experienced facilitator, well-versed in conflict resolution, will help two disagreeing teams find common ground and solve their conflicts.
5. Provide assistance
An effective team facilitator acts as an endless resource of guidance, wisdom and counsel that a creative team can always look to for advice whenever they need. The role of the facilitator is to provide assistance and guidance in a way that encourages the team members to welcome the knowledge and apply it.
Qualities of a good facilitator
Don't take it from us; take it from Alexander the Great instead. "An army of sheep led by lions is better than an army of lions led by sheep." On that premise, a mediocre team with a great and inspiring facilitator is way better than a great team with a mediocre facilitator leading their creative meetings.
But for you to pick out an effective facilitator from team members, you have to know the qualities that make up an effective facilitator. Some of the attributes to look out for are:
1. Good at preliminary preparations
One of the first characteristics you should look for in a team facilitator is their level of preparation. An excellent facilitator should always have the entire meeting laid out before its date. This simple strategy makes it easier to foresee and avoid challenges. Your facilitator should be able to perform the following without challenge:
Get the team on the same page
Make the end goal crystal clear
Get the necessary people in the room
Prepare the meeting room
2. Energetic and outgoing personality
There's a ten in ten chance that a dull facilitator will always lead to the dull meetings many teams and their members dread. A team will always mirror and match the energy of their facilitator. If yours walks into the meeting room looking lacklustre, expect the same from your team. On the other hand, if your facilitator is energetic and outgoing, your team will feed off that energy; they will become more productive and look forward to finding long-lasting solutions.
3. Positive and has a sense of humor
Not all your meetings will always be upbeat. As we saw during the pandemic, some will be tense, full of uncertainty and fear. In such circumstances, a positive facilitator comes in handy. These are the leaders who can motivate the most downcast of team members and remind them that they have a chance, however small it is. A sense of humor from the facilitator is also crucial to fight off any demotivated moments in the meetings.
4. Asks instead of telling
A facilitator who comes across as condescending is the greatest enemy to progress in team meetings. One strategy that goes a long way in avoiding a patronizing tone is asking vs. telling. For example, instead of saying "This shouldn't be here," you could use "Should this be here?" This simple act of converting a statement into a question will help your facilitator build better relationships with your team members.
5. Excellent listening skills
"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply" Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Does your facilitator fall into this category? One way to gauge the effectiveness of your team facilitators is their listening skills. Emphatic listening, critical listening, and deep listening are some of the things you should consider looking for. Fortunately, these are skills that any facilitator can learn and become better at with practice.
6. An understanding of group dynamics
Most essential of all, your facilitator should have a grasp of the team dynamics. A team is a living creature with a lot of complexities and nuances. Some of your team members love being picked out, others dread it. On the other hand, you have team mates who would rather communicate their ideas directly to the facilitator for one reason or another. To bring an entire group of different people and lead them across a productive discussion is a hard task; it helps to get to know each individual in the room first and, if possible, the dynamics that exist between team members.
Facilitation Skills Training: Build better teams and bring life to your meetings
A simple skill such as asking instead of telling is the best example showing how you can improve your company's facilitation skills. It all begins with a single step: getting proper training. Although some people are born meeting facilitators, investing time and resources in a facilitation skills training course will go a long way to develop active listening skills, time management or preventing one person from taking a meeting over. Furthermore, learning facilitation skills could help you improve and better apply your skills to different career settings.