“Edward is a seasoned facilitator. He not only has the tools and techniques but also an easy rapport and blends these with an intuitive ability to read the group. This proved an excellent combination of skills and experience when he guided a group of stakeholders (many of whom had not met each other before) to work on a big hairy ambitious goal of implementing EU policy. Not only was the workshop effective it was also enjoyable, thanks to Edward.”
Tristram Lewis, Marine Conservation Programme Officer, Oak Foundation
Better Conversations, Better Decision Making
Good facilitation is about helping people to have constructive conversations that lead to better and more sustainable decision-making. Face to face meetings represent an enormous investment of time and resources. For this reason, I believe one of the main responsibilities of the facilitator is to leverage the ideas, the knowledge and the experience in the room. This means giving everyone a voice, and listening to what they have to say. It also means designing the meeting so that people can be curious, bounce ideas off each other, and co-create solutions. As the saying goes, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
What I have learned
Facilitation can make the difference between meetings where people go away inspired and motivated to deliver action points together, and meetings that end without agreement on the way forward. Managing expectations, and building an atmosphere of mutual appreciation and understanding are key to helping people work better together. My role is to pay attention to all the factors that can help people to have better conversations.
I have facilitated confidential strategic planning meetings at senior level for a wide range of organisations, including TCV (formerly the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers), English Nature, Groundwork, IUCN, LEAD, and UNEP. Strategic planning meetings by their very nature can be contentious. What I bring is an ability to quickly understand the culture and context of the meeting, the challenges, and the opportunities. What I do is create a positive working environment where participants can explore and generate options in climate of mutual trust and respect.
What kind of meetings do you go to?
- Are the agendas circulated in advance?
- Do the agendas include clear goals and discussion points?
- Can delegates share their expectations?
- Are there opportunities to confer and collaborate?
- Do you feel able to ask questions and is your voice heard?
- Do you ever learn something new?
- Are there opportunities to get to know the other people at the meeting?
- Are there clear outcomes and actions points?
- Do you feel engaged and motivated to take on some action points?
If you can say yes to the majority of these questions then I would say your experience of going to meetings is better than average.
My checklist for planning and monitoring better meetings
Here is a short checklist of questions I ask myself when planning and facilitating a meeting:
- What do I need to know about my client and what do they need to know about me?
- What is the purpose of the meeting?
- Have there been meetings like this in the past? What worked? Is there anything we should not repeat?
- What are the key topics and issues?
- What will make the meeting a success for my client and their stakeholders?
- Have we invited everyone who needs to be at the meeting?
- What information do we need to give the participants before the meeting?
- How can we make the most of the meeting space?
- Are there enough opportunities in the schedule for informal conversations and networking?
- Remember what Napoleon Bonaparte said: ‘Reculer pour mieux sauter’, which, roughly translated, means, ‘Take a step back in order to jump further forward’.
And so it is with meetings. Just when you think you are close to achieving the meeting objectives, things have a way of coming undone. Be prepared to throw away the schedule for an hour or two.
- How do I know participants are learning something, and having fun?
- When groups burst into life when given a task
- When groups don’t want to finish working on a task
- When delegates change places willingly
- When there is spontaneous laughter in the room
- When delegates stay in the room long after the meeting talking to each other.
For more tips on meeting facilitation see my blog on Natural Facilitation.