Facilitation-the ultimate ice breaker for meetings and workshops?
What exactly is the magic of good facilitation work? Is it true that a facilitator can break the ice between workshop participants right in the beginning of a workshop? Is it possible to bring everything into the open by using facilitation techniques? If you have your doubts, you should read this!
What is facilitation?
It is now a bit than a year ago that I witnessed a fantastic facilitator at work. Before that experience I really wondered why we wanted an external expert to help us for that workshop and not somebody from our institution, but I very soon came to see why. The group of participants was very diverse, people from Africa, Europe and Asia from different organizations. Most of them had never met. And while in most conferences you have to seize the opportunity provided to you by the coffee break to get to know the people around, this meeting was different. After very short official welcome address, participants were asked to get up from their seats, move and find a person in the room they do not know and introduce themselves. With a few ice-breaking techniques, participants were soon busily engaged talking to people they had never met before.
But of course these techniques did not only help people to learn more about who else is in the room – it created a friendly and comfortable working environment for the days to come. And after the three days of the workshop I should realize what facilitation is about: Very simply put, facilitation is helping a group to accomplish its goals.
But wait, why would you want to facilitate groups?
“One misconception about meetings is that getting all the experts in the same room will automatically produce good results.“
- ASQ Human Development and Leadership Division: Basic Facilitation Skills (2002)
1 expert + 1 expert = ?
Probably all of us have already experienced this phenomenon and while according to Adam Riese 1 and 1 usually adds up to 2, putting more experts in the room does not necessarily allow for a qualitatively high outcome.
At the very moment that I was writing this, a colleague came into my room and told me about a meeting that she just had witnessed – which would serve as an example par-excellence for a highly unconstructive meeting in spite of the fact that the room was full of experts. Participants ended up discussing the agenda of the meeting more than the actual topics and seemed to focus more on the process than on the content of the meeting. They were talking (at times even shouting) at cross purposes, because everybody had a different understanding of the terminology. After hours of frustration they found out that they were using different languages, but actually talking about the same thing.
The role of the facilitator
And that is where a facilitator could have helped. The role of the facilitator is to help the participants learn how to work together by providing the structure (process) while they remain focused on the content.
Remember, why we have team or group meetings in the first place? Because we believe that two (or more) heads are better than one and that the quality of our decisions increases when we get input from more than one individual. The task of the facilitator then depends on the purpose of the meeting, that is to say whether the group was called together to
• make decisions
• share information
• plan work
• learn from one another
• create buy-in or
• solve problems
So the first challenge seems to be getting the purpose of the meeting across to all participants.
My question to you:
How do you ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to the purpose of the meeting?
Looking forward to your posts.
Maike Schansker (Schansker[at]vie.unu.edu)
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