My friends and I recently read an article in Fast Company by Brandon Klein on facilitation as a vital competency for leaders.
Klein writes, “Being a good facilitator isn’t the same as knowing how to manage people or run a meeting. It all comes down to understanding the tools–and structure–that help people collaborate.” Indeed, David Isaacs, a co-originator of The World Café process says, “A primary role of leadership is to design, convene, and host conversations that matter.”* (See endnote)
We agree that to facilitate well one needs to know what different tools and structures exist to help create the best conversation possible. Yes, there is a science and methodology to facilitating meaningful conversations that invite engagement, cooperation, and collaboration.
And, there is also an art to how, where, and when to apply different techniques, tools, and social technologies. The tools and structures are applications. A masterful facilitator has a personal operating system that enables an easy, in-the-moment differentiation and determination of if, how, and when to use any particular tool or structure and to shift in an instant if necessary.
By all means, keep adding apps to your leadership and facilitation toolkits (Klein’s article has links to some good tools); and, keep working on your personal operating system (how you think, how you feel, how you communicate) in order to get the most out of each app when you reach for it.
A couple of my colleagues responded to the article by focusing on how we can coach our clients to grow this important competency and become what my friend Dina calls “game-changing facilitators.” Questions we raised in the dialogue sparked by Klein’s article included:
- How do we help leaders to facilitate effectively without an over-emphasis of their own POV?
- Do some leaders believe that good facilitation is just really good persuasion and if so how can we help them past that?
- How can we help leaders bring great questions to their attempts at facilitation?
- How can we see ourselves as partners with our clients and become more willing and intentional about transferring their knowledge and expertise around facilitation?
I think our partnership with clients is the key and is vital to helping them to become game-changing facilitators. Our hope must be to influence them to take time to design conversations to engage everyone, to let go of their agenda in order to bring others in, to let go of a meeting’s agenda when the moment requires it, and mostly to contain their desire to solve problems, step in to correct, or drive to a conclusion. Most importantly can we influence them to slow down and listen? Maybe that’s the question to keep repeating to them when we are in meetings with them, “What are you hearing?” That’s how they’ll grow their personal operating system and become better leaders and facilitators in the process – designing, convening, and hosting conversations that matter.
My thanks to my friends and masterful coaches and facilitators for an invigorating conversation: Dina Silver, Pat Newmann, Dave Dresden, and Duncan Drechsel. If you need a coach or facilitator, start with one of them.
*What makes a conversation matter? In business, conversations matter when they solve a challenge, take advantage of an opportunity or develop someone’s capacity to engage and contribute.