Are you ever disappointed with the level of participation in your meetings? If so, you are not alone. This is one of the biggest complaints I hear about meetings from my CEO members. In any meeting, regardless of its size or purpose, there are three roles that you can play:
One major reason for limited participation and input is because the leader of the organization sometimes tries to play all three of these roles at the same time. What’s wrong with that? Think about it from the viewpoint of the Participants. By the nature of the position, the CEO/President has ultimate authority over them. Because the Facilitator manages the discussion, it is also a “power” position. Most of the CEO’s I know also exude a strong personality who make their positions well known. You have just hit the “power trifecta”; combining your own personal power with the inherent power of the Facilitator and the CEO/President position; unwittingly sending the signal of a pre-determined outcome. Not surprisingly, Participants become reluctant to share their opinions and end up supporting that pre-determined outcome- if they participate at all.
In order to get free flowing, quality input from meeting Participants, it is essential to use a neutral (in both subject and organizational influence) Facilitator while limiting yourself to just playing the role of The Client.
The role of Facilitator is similar to an Air Traffic Controller whose job is to help travelers arrive safely at their destinations but not to determine where those destinations should be. The Facilitator provides the structure, process and guidance for the meeting while staying out of the content. Just like the Air Traffic Controller, The Facilitator has specific responsibilities, skills and knowledge:
Ideally, Facilitators should be professionally trained and there are organizations that specialize in this area (see the end of the blog for a list). Larger companies often train several individuals within their organization to ensure that a neutal Facilitator is always available.
Smaller organizations should consider training a few key individuals. If that is not feasible, book(s) on facilitation (see recommendations at the end of this blog) may substitute. Once some basic knowledge is acquired, experience and immediate feedback is the best path to competence.
As you introduce the practice of facilitated meetings in your organization, start by asking one of your trained individuals to voluntarily facility a Client’s issue, matching the complexity of the subject and group dynamics with the skill and experience of the Facilitator.
At the end of the meeting, thank your Facilitator and the Participants. Be sure to give the Facilitator feedback on their performance asking what he/she did well and what he/she can do better. Ongoing practice and feedback are key to developing The Facilitator’s skills and confidence.
Be clear on what role you assume in important discussions and how you are using your implied power. If you choose to be the Client, do not take on the roles of the Facilitator or Participant too. This helps create a safe environment that maximizes group participation and provides you many opportunities to practice your empathic listening!
Successful meetings don’t just happen. Using a neutral Facilitator will significantly improve the odds of that success. Try it in your next meeting and please share your experience.