Sunday, December 6, 2009

What’s the Hold Up? Ensuring Meetings Never Get Stuck

Incessant questions and hold up tactics. Some things never go according to plan. Do you ever notice the same people intent on holding up progress? I was in a focus session recently where the facilitator had a great deal of difficulty briefing the participants on the initial purpose and objectives of the session—a half-day set of contingency planning exercises.

As the facilitator opened proceedings, endeavouring to explain the lay of the land, he received a clarifying question; then another, and another and so forth. Most of the clarifications requested would’ve actually been answered had these participants bothered to express some faith and wait.

Instead, they interjected and asked questions interrupting the flow of the briefing—I’m sure they were oblivious to the tedium this created for others in the room, not to mention the facilitator who patiently endured the questions.

The bane of all facilitators is the almost constant interruption of some who must simply assert an ego-based soapbox performance—but in doing so, to elevate their position, they ironically lose face.

It bears consideration that a key role for the facilitator is to eliminate as far as possible the likely, predictable interjections, and this is done with a strong assertive opening:

è Body language is important: stand and do not sit with the group. This is to present you, the facilitator, as set apart from the group—some formality is good. No matter your level organisationally, being set apart like this creates a necessary situational superiority that augments meeting structure.

è Start with ground rules firmly set in place. Ask (demand) permission to be the ‘stick in the mud’ and have the special ability to curb discussion. Don’t be afraid of politely cutting people off to re-direct the group on task. Explain up front this as part of your role. It’s thus not going to come across as being disrespectful.

è Be prepared to manage the egos. We’ve all got one, and every meeting has at least one or two prepared for a dip! The bigger the group the more likely two or more ego-motivated people will rise to the fore—egos are presented in a myriad of ways, but realistically nothing ego-based is going to be productive; be warned.

è Think of ways you can encourage participants to express faith. Simply saying right up front, ‘I’m sure you’ll have some questions and concerns as we go through, but please be assured we’ve planned this session meticulously and questions or concerns may be answered without you needing to ask.’ In other words, you’re asking the group for a little patience and to hold their questions. Apply a “parking bay” on the whiteboard for issues that threaten the flow of the meeting.

Facilitated sessions can mostly be either inspirational or a bore. Without being topic experts, the facilitator can help the process a lot in their management of the overall process.

It’s like herding sheep or conducting the group as if it were an orchestra. The aim is there are no straying sheep or unplanned symphonic solos.

A strong start can do so much to advance the meeting toward the inspirational ensuring the rhythm of the event is kept upbeat.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

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