Facilitation. Is it a dark and mystical art, which only a special few know how to do? How is it that Annie from Accounts makes it look so flipping easy to facilitate a workshop, whereas Peter from Sales has a nightmare every time he stands up in front of the room?
We don’t think there’s any mystery to facilitation. In fact, we believe there’s a lot of science involved in getting the best from a group of people who may have some very diverse perspectives, and helping them work together productively to make use of the diversity and create great output.
We feel so strongly about this in fact, that we don’t even like to use the term ‘facilitator’. We’d rather anyone responsible for leading a group of people from a start point to an outcome think about themselves as a Navigator.
A Navigator is clear about the required destination, and often has a route that is pre-plotted. But they’re also ready, willing and able to allow things to go off-course, safe in the knowledge they’ll be able to bring everyone back onto the right path to reach the desired outcome.
There are many layers to being a great Navigator, and we are continually learning new aspects of the role and developing new tips and tricks to help us encode the skill set even more effectively, so we can share it in our training workshops.
One of the biggest things we’ve learned over the years, is that the first ten to twenty minutes of a workshop have a major influence on the quality of the workshop’s outcome. The actions and interactions during this time set the expectation, the energy, the tone and the permission fields for the entire interaction.
So whether your workshop is 2 hours or 2 days long, it’s worth spending some time planning carefully for those first few minutes. Read on for our top tips on how to make sure your next workshop starts on the right note.
If you’ve got a big meeting, event or even a conference to run or facilitate, and you’d like help to make it stand out for all the right reasons, hop over to our blog on how to make your conference awesome here.
1 – Be clear about the purpose of the meeting
Here, we don’t just mean have an agenda, we mean: know what it is that you want to achieve in your time together.
We suggest that this is pre-agreed and circulated to everybody is invited to the meeting so that they can make their decision on whether they want and need to be there or not.
This way, the people who are attending have self-selected to come and work on your issue. This will make sure that you don’t have passengers – only people who actively care about the outcome.
2 – Start together
This may sound basic but it’s amazing how many meetings, workshops and interactions start without having all the necessary people present. This is either because there’s a company culture of being late for meetings and several people are sitting around waiting or because nobody’s quite sure who’s supposed to be attending and so a start is made when it looks like there are enough people in the room.
The danger of starting without everybody present is that whatever you do in the first 10 minutes is going to set the tone for the whole meeting.
So, anyone who is late will either be out-of-kilter with the meeting’s tone and ambition, or you’re going to need to pause and go through everything again at the risk of boring everybody else.
To avoid this, find a way to make sure you all start together and whatever “on time” means to you. If that means your meeting is always start at 10 past the hour and the first 10 minutes are general chit chat while the latecomers arrive with their coffees, so be it. If that means inviting everybody 15 minutes early and then letting them know you’ll start in 15 minutes and give them a pre-task to do that’s fine as well.
When you make a start, make it clear, make it definitive and make it crisp so everyone knows that the meeting is starting and they need to pay attention now.
3 – Get everyone’s voices out into the room as early as possible
All too often meetings start, carry on and end with the only voice being that of the Chair or the facilitator. A meeting should be an interaction: people have come here to participate.
The best way to make sure everyone has skin in the game right from the outset is to ask them to interact almost as soon as you’ve started. So, say hello, welcome everybody in and do something to ensure everyone gets to speak. Stuck for ideas? You could:
- Ask for everyone’s point of view on the topic that you’re going to be exploring
- Give them a question to answer
- Find out how they’re feeling today
- Get their energy score on a rating of 0-10 and why.
People will appreciate the opportunity to have their voice heard in the room. As a result, there’ll be more eager participants, they’ll lean in and they’ll be reassured that when they do speak, they’re going to be listened to. Plus, you will get valuable input on how your group are feeling and therefore what they need from you as a facilitator.
4 – Make the atmosphere positive
Positive priming is our favourite little facilitation secret. If you give people something at the start of an interaction, they’ll be more decisive during that interaction and they’ll also be more positive about the decisions they’ve made during the time they were working with you.
Positive priming is really easy, its as simple as buying a box of sweets and placing one on everyone’s chair, playing a little game at the beginning of the session, giving people a little gift or even suggesting that you take the meeting outside and go for a walk. Giving people anything that is pleasant, nice and feels like a gift will act as a positive primer for your session.
The effect of positive priming lasts a couple of hours, so if your meeting is lasting all day, you’ll want to space the ‘gifts’ out and put something every couple of hours, perhaps after every break.
Try some of these tips at your next meeting or workshop and let us know how you get on! We’d love to hear from you. Contact us.