by Carolyn Browning, CMP, CMM
When planning conferences with educational sessions, we often are involved in selecting speakers or moderators. For advisory boards or board retreats, a different type of session leader is required. For these meetings, you’ll need someone to keep things running smoothly while making sure all opinions are captured and that all involved have an opportunity to speak. Someone who allows the meeting owner to be a participant instead of the “bad cop.” That’s when you need a facilitator.
Facilitators should be brought into the process from the outset, once objectives have been established. At that point, they work with the meeting owner creating an agenda with the necessary components to meet those objectives. Some agendas are routine, while others require special preparation and multiple iterations before being finalized. Some agendas will be strictly business, while others might incorporate games or teambuilding exercises – all focused on the ultimate meeting objective. The common thread in their agendas is flexibility.
Once the framework is set, the facilitator works with the planner to make sure that all the details are in place, including room sets and supplies. When the meeting starts, facilitators move into ‘pilot mode’, steering the group and its supporting players along the course, making sure they work together to get to their destination. This is where a facilitator might need to modify the agenda or deal with unexpected issues to stay on time and task. They assign team members roles to fulfill to achieve that goal – note takers, timekeepers and even bring in transcriptionists. All are important support roles that help the facilitator focus on guiding the group, dealing with difficult personalities and focusing on the meeting objective.
Because they need to be so flexible, you could also compare facilitators to yogis. Like yogis they breathe deeply and focus their energies on the outcome, guiding the group, suggesting corrections or modifications where needed. They need to adapt to changes in the group’s mood – realizing that sometimes an agenda needs to be fluid and rewritten. They offer suggestions or best practices based on experience, trying to remain neutral and allowing the team to make the best decisions based on the stated objectives.
Very often Zen-like calm is needed because the mood in the group is anything but. That’s when a facilitator needs to draw upon that Zen and their skills of reading personalities and managing difficult groups. In their pre-meeting discussions, the meeting owner &/or planner should explain the group profile and point out any potential challenging situations or personality conflicts. A skilled facilitator will be able to plan agenda activities to manage these circumstances,
Especially with advisory boards or retreats, bringing in a facilitator can mean the difference between achieving the stated outcome and veering wildly off course. They act as a neutral third-party whose goal is to keep personal agendas in check and focus on what is in the best interest of the organization. Planners who know when to suggest this resource (and know where to find them) will be superstars to their clients – allowing them to stress less and participate more fully in their own meetings.
Full disclosure – Carolyn is not only a veteran meeting professional, she also facilitates board retreats and advisory boards. Carolyn Browning, CMP, CMM is the founder and Chief Solution Strategist of MEETing Needs and the volunteer Director of Communications for SPIN .
MeetingsNet – facilitator traits
IAF (international Association of Facilitators) www.iaf-world.org
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