by Christie Latona, Path1 Coach and Consultant; founder of Greatness Unlimited
Facilitation is fundamentally about making something easier. Microsoft’s Excel facilitates calculations and analyzes data (if you know how to use its formulas). PayTrust facilitates the electronic payment of bills (if you pay the monthly fee). Skype facilitates communication between individuals who can’t actually meet face-to-face (provided they both they can both get on the internet at the same time). An ATM card facilitates access to your cash 24/7 (if you have cash and remember the pin!). You get the idea. In each of the examples, you’ll notice that the object doing the facilitation cannot do it alone!A “facilitator” helps teams and groups get to where they need to go more simply and effectively than if they were left to do it on their own. When I started facilitating meetings and groups in 1991, I thought I was doing a good job when people left the meeting feeling good and feeling like they had a chance to be heard. I now measure a good facilitation by comments like:
“We never would have been able to work through that issue without you. We’ve been avoiding it or arguing about it for years.” or
“We are 6 months to a year ahead of where we would have been without you.” or
“I’ve been in a lot of meetings, but never one where so much important work got accomplished.”
I have found that some people mistake “facilitation” with “running an effective meeting.” Some focus more on executing a particular process, on creating a safe space, or on time management than on the actual destination. Without the destination in mind, making the meeting/process easier becomes almost irrelevant.
I advocate for starting with the objective in mind and then discerning which approach and process will get the group there best and simplest given four factors:
- People Dynamics
- Who, ultimately, decides? This might not be who you think it is. And it often is not one person, especially in the United Methodist Church. In a church, one layer of decision-making might be about whether or not something will get funded. Another layer of decision-making happens at implementation time as people decide whether or not this matches their understanding of purpose, mission, and priority. Still another layer involves leadership appointments or assignments.
- What about the personality, history, and needs of decision-makers must be considered?
- How well do the people in the room know and trust one another?
- How well do they know you?
- Topic Priorities
- Where does this project/topic rank on the decision-makers’ list of things?
- How does this fit with the day-to-day reality of the people in the room or on the call?
- Nature of the Work at Hand
- What decisions need to be made? What questions need to be answered?
- Is this a one-time decision/discussion/action or something that will need to be sustainable?
- Are decision-making parameters clear?
- How controversial is the topic?
- Time Available
- By when must the objective be reached?
- How much time do we have in the meeting?
- How long will people stay engaged within the context of the meeting?
I am definitely not a perfect facilitator who always makes the right move with groups. Nor do I have all or most of the answers. But I have spent hundreds of thousands of hours with groups and have learned the "both-and" of an inclusive process that builds ownership and relationships while accomplishing significant goals in a wide variety of settings. Furthermore, the last five years I have consulted, facilitated, and coached within the unique culture of The United Methodist Church at all levels—general church, annual conference and congregational arenas.
If you think learning group facilitation skills might be important in your context or if you are considering becoming a Path 1 Recommended Coach, join me for the Facilitation Intensive on October 18 and discover strategies you can use to guide stakeholder expectations and decisions everywhere you go.