cross-posted from Laird's Commentary on Community and Consensus
As a professional facilitator for more than three decades, I've had ample opportunity to observe which skills make the most difference. As a facilitation trainer the past 15 years, I've collected plenty of data about which lessons have been the most challenging for students to digest. Taken all together, I've decided to assemble a series of blog posts on the facilitation skills I consider to be both the hardest to master and the most potent for producing productive meetings. They will all bear the header Key Facilitation Skills and it's a distillation of where I believe the heavy lifting is done.
Here are the headlines of what I'll cover in this series:
I. Riding Two Horses: Content and Energy
II. Working Constructively with Emotions
III. Managing the Obstreperous
IV. Developing Range: Holding the Reins Only as Tightly as the Horse Require
V. Semipermeable Membranes: Welcoming Passion While Limiting Aggression
VI.Creating Durable Containers for Hard Conversations
VII. Walking the Feedback Talk
VIII. Sis Boom Bang
IX. Projecting Curiosity in the Presence of Disagreement
X. Distinguishing Weird (But Benign) from Seductive (Yet Dangerous)
XI. Eliciting Proposals that Sing
XII. Becoming Multi-tongued
XIII. Not Leaving Product on the Table
XIV. Sequencing Issues Productively
XV. Trusting the Force
• • •
Not Leaving Product on the Table
In this monograph I'm going to focus on the last 10 minutes of a meeting. In my experience groups often squander opportunities by not understanding what's possible in those moments.
In a meeting where the topic has been well explored, everyone has had a decent chance to express their views and concerns, and the energy is fluid—pay attention to these caveats; they're important—it is often possible to bring the group to a reasonable agreement, or at least a partial agreement, that will likely evaporate if not captured right then and there. It's use it or lose it.
The interesting case is not when you're testing a specific proposal for buy-in—that's relatively easy—but when you're in a dynamic conversation and not clear where you'll end up. Leaving aside for the moment whether the facilitator can create and hold the group in a listening, non-combative place (no small thing when the stakes are high), a good facilitator should be able feel into the possibilities about what agreement could hold the whole.
—Seeing the Glass Half Full
What ungirds this skill is understanding the power of being agreement oriented (seeing the glass half full). While this may seem a minor matter, it isn't. We come out of a wider culture that emphasizes individuality, to the point where we have been deeply conditioned to be aware at all times about how we are distinct from others—not how we are aligned with others. Thus, we have learned from an early age to identify and focus on how we disagree with others, because that's how we know we're unique. Developing the skill of seeing the potential connections among disparate viewpoints requires unlearning our default response to differences.
Often, skilled facilitators will be able to read what's possible better than anyone else in the room—not because they're magicians (adept at sleight of hand), but because they have trained themselves to see connections and possibilities ahead of differences and obstacles. They should also be able to deftly read the energy in the room and tell the extent to which it's gelling, rather than getting brittle.
In the interest of efficiency, a number of groups shoot themselves in the foot by scheduling plenaries too tightly, not allowing sufficient time to explore issues in depth. In general, groups would be better off delegating more and giving greater time to the remaining topics—the ones that should be handled by the plenary. If a topic is worthy of full-group attention, then give it enough time to be explored in depth. To be sure, considerations should be well-focused and not repetitive, yet neither should they be raced through or cursory. When you ask groups to swallow food that has been insufficiently chewed, you should not be surprised that the result is indigestion.