Facilitation Skills at Meetings

Posted on | November 29, 2010 | No Comments

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Groups often experience difficulty working through issues, and that’s where facilitation skills come in handy. Often this difficulty is related to group members’ inexperience with structuring a conversation: The needed information needs to surface and productive conversation must move through a logical sequence, resulting in a conclusion that is clear, actionable and supported.

Many years ago my PowerfulWork partner, Tom Kornbluh, and I developed a conversation model to help groups move through conversations in a smooth sequence. One of our clients found the process so helpful that she posted the model in all of her company’s conference rooms as a visual aid.

Each conversation thread within a meeting will eventually follow the natural pattern of human critical thinking. Designing sessions to align with and reinforce this natural pattern leads to an accelerated work process and less unnecessary conflict. Here is the model and a simple explanation:


• The purpose of the thread/conversation is identified and confirmed with the group.
• Timeline, process steps and roles are identified.
• E.g. “The topic up for discussion is ‘the selection of a new recorder.’”

Data/Information Gathering:
• All facts and information relevant to the thread are shared with the entire group.
• Presentations from outside experts and internal reports may be offered.
• Individuals may present additional data of personal import—as long as it is related to the thread.
• The group has an opportunity to ask questions and discuss the quality and accuracy of the data.
• E.g., “What do we know about the candidates?”

Individual Reactions:
• Individual responses to the data and the facts of the situation are surfaced.
• The floor is open to feelings, thoughts and opinions.
• Individuals are encouraged to speak for themselves.
• E.g., “What do you each think and feel about the information we just heard?”

Group Implications/Options:
• There is a group-level discussion of the significance and meaning of the data and reactions for the group/organization.
• E.g., “What significance or meaning does all this have for our organization?”
• After discussing the implications, the group may want to brainstorm some options for action.

• The group makes decisions.
• Next actions are established.
• E.g., “Can we agree on the best candidate for the job?” “Who will notify all the candidates of our decision by tomorrow?”

• Thread and outcome are summarized.
• Incomplete and connected relevant issues are identified and scheduled for future conversations, if necessary.
• E.g., “After exploring all the relevant information and implications for our organization we have chosen Jane Doe as our recorder and we have identified clear next steps. Are there any other conversations about this topic that we need to have before we leave today?”

Over time we have found that there are two common group tendencies that can derail these vital steps and prevent a conversation from being productive. First, groups want to move immediately to conclusions. They have little patience for really vetting the issues. Organizations are about results and they want to get to the solution. It’s a natural tendency. However, slowing a group down and forcing them to follow this process will ensure a more thoughtful dialogue and result in a better solution. You can’t solve a problem if you don’t know what it is and haven’t explored causes or implications.

The second common mistake groups make is failing to separate the facts and data from individuals’ opinions and reactions. Helping a group see the difference between these two categories is an enormous gift to them. This is not to say that opinions are not important—they are—but opinions are a different set of information. Groups need to know the difference between hard data and people’s opinions.

As a meeting facilitator, the more you can help a group stay focused on where they are in the process, the more smoothly the conversation will run. We have found that just noting when the group has moved from one step to the next makes participants more comfortable, because they know where they are in the conversation.

Finally, if you plan to use the PowerfulWork Conversation model, it’s important to show it to the group before you use it. Keep it visible and use it as a reference tool as you track the conversation.


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