The way I facilitate meetings is strategic, that why my method is called Strategic Facilitation.™ It is widely regarded as one of the most efficient, effective ways to help people have high-level discussions and build consensus quickly.
“Strategic Facilitation™ is widely regarded as one of the most efficient, effective ways to engage in high-level discussions and consensus building.
Successes depend on careful pre-meeting planning.
- I meet with prospective clients before agreeing to design the engagement. This helps me to be well-informed about the purpose of the meeting and the nature of the outcomes clients want. At that point, I determine if Strategic Facilitation™ is the best way or whether another consultant is better suited to help. When necessary, I refer the prospective client to one of the many other facilitators I know.
- I review background materials to better understand the organization, its players and issues.
- With the client, I select an appropriate number of meeting participants (or other stakeholders) to interview prior to the meeting. When groups are small, I interview everyone; in the case of larger meetings interviews with a sample of participants is adequate. The interviews are 30-45 minutes long and conducted by phone at a time convenient to the interviewee, including on weekends if necessary. Interviewees frequently want to speak longer and if so, I accommodate their interest. To help with interviewee recruitment, I provide a draft memo that clients send to meeting participants. The memo describes the process and confidentiality associated with the interview.
- Become acquainted with each of the participants individually;
- Determine participants’ concerns and interests in order to construct the facilitation approach;
- Determine if there are any barriers to accepting the meeting outcomes;
- Create discussion buy-in and trust in the process and therefore, the outcome; and
- Provide an opportunity for players who cannot participate in the meeting itself to share their views and affect the outcome.
There are additional benefits of interviews:
- They expose the range of opinions and views in the group.
- They establish a relationship between me and the participants, early in the process. Since consensus is an iterative process and conflict is inevitable, creating and maintaining relationships is important for managing achieving success, especially if meeting time is limited. Trust between each participant and me as the facilitator is essential. In every group there is at least one individual who harbors strong concerns that will only be expressed privately, for example, in confidential interviews. Without the opportunity to do so, that individual often disrupts the flow of the meeting and impedes progress. Interviews help prevent that kind of disruption.
- They give people the opportunity to participate and feel empowered in collective decision-making.
- They are efficient and allow the consensus-making process to “get farther faster.” The views expressed in interviews are blinded to protect confidentiality, analyzed and presented at the start of the meeting. In today’s time-starved world, few people have the patience to hear everyone’s views aired individually. This is the case even when meetings are small. A presentation that summarizes the interview results allows the larger group to use the meeting time to validate the interview results and proceed more quickly to “higher order” analysis, discussion and decision-making.
Interview results prepare me to make better recommendations about the structure for the meeting.
During the meeting itself, I facilitate the discussions, manage the “flow” of the meeting and assure the conversation proceeds towards desired outcomes. Immediately after the meeting, I debrief with the client and if requested to do so, recommend next steps.In most cases, and in order to maintain the neutrality and credibility, clients want me to develop a report of the meeting. I do quickly – generally in less than one week.Though I have views on many of the topics involved in those meetings I facilitate, when I am engaged for this type of project it is important that I remain neutral and “take no position.” As part of my own preparation, I remind myself to “hold the space” of the wisdom of the Native American Prayer of Approach:
- I honor your gods
- I drink at your well
- I come with an undefended heart to our meeting
- I will not negotiate by withholding
- I have no cherished outcomes
- I am not subject to disappointment