A skilled facilitator can bring out the very best in a group. Whether guiding an open ended brainstorming session, leading a group through the process of defining a problem and designing a solution, or helping a group prioritize and plan an initiative, facilitators create and hold the space to support a group in shared work. As a result, the group is able to produce something far better than any individual could have produced alone. The whole really is greater than the sum of the parts.

As a leader, you facilitate all the time. You might not even think of it as facilitating. However there are some kinds of meetings, like offsites or planning sessions, where the group would benefit from you participating rather than leading. So you tap an outside facilitator. The higher the stakes, the more important it is that whoever you tap is highly skilled and experienced.

That’s where I come in.

The Power of Good Facilitation

Before I tell you what I can do as a facilitator, I want to tell you about the worst offsite ever. This was a long time ago in a community far far away. We brought in an external facilitator. It’s no one you know.

The facilitator was well meaning. They came in well prepared. But they crammed the day with so many exercises that there wasn’t room to have unplanned discussions. Worse, at no point did the facilitator realize that there was a problem. They didn’t have enough understanding of what we were discussing to realize that we were not getting to the meat of the issues. As participants we could tell that we were only having superficial conversations, but it was too late. There was no good way to step back and regroup. We didn’t have strong trust relationships among ourselves. So we went along with the program. And after two days we were … nowhere.

Now let me tell you about a different offsite some years later with a different group. It was another two day meeting, and it also had the potential to go nowhere. The group was not cohesive and did not have strong trust relationships. This time I was the outside facilitator. I had worked with the meeting organizers to develop a plan before we stepped in the room. But after a couple of hours, I could tell there were conversations that needed to happen, and the plan was preventing those conversations.

(How could I tell, you ask? During the breaks there was a lot of high energy conversation, but during the exercises the group was low energy. Conversation in the whole group setting was stilted. During breaks participants separated into groups with no crossover between. Further, I knew enough about the context of the meeting to tell that during the whole-group sessions, people weren’t digging into the meat of the topic. Everything discussed was superficial and non-controversial.)

On the next break, I huddled with the meeting organizers. I expressed my concerns that the plan wasn’t working, that the group needed to have deeper conversations, to surface and resolve disagreements, but that wasn’t happening.

We agreed to throw out the original plan. I changed up the pace and structure of the meeting. Slowing things down a bit allowed for more organic conversations. Adding brain writing exercises (instead of whole-group verbal brain storming) made different perspectives visible. There were some tense moments when long simmering disagreements came to the fore. But that was exactly what needed to happen.

In the end, the group not only resolved enough disagreements to have a plan for the coming quarter, but they also improved their ability to communicate and collaborate.

When I Can Help

I have experience as both an engineer and R&D leader, so I can keep up with the conversation. I’m able to ask deeper questions and notice when the group isn’t getting where they need to go. I also have a lot of experience facilitating a wide range of high-stakes meetings including high-level strategy planning sessions, project kickoffs, team-building workshops, large retrospectives, and incredibly sensitive post mortems. That combination of leadership and facilitation experience means that I can design a series of activities with you before the meeting starts, and also adapt on the fly if necessary.

Let’s Talk

If you have a high-stakes meeting and are considering an outside facilitator, let’s discuss your context and goals.

Ready to talk about possibilities? Please reach out!