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    Entries in facilitator (4)


    10 cliches that kill collaboration, smash diversity and slow-up progress.

    So much advice available out there on meetings…  yet still so many sad behaviours and cliches that stop progress in its tracks.

    I've had the pleasure to work with some teams lately to help them get more done in their projects by helping develop their leader as facilitator skills. 

    This capability is needed in workplaces to

    • boost collaboration
    • get alignment
    • get work done and
    • meet deadlines...

    all the while working with diverse teams who have different backgrounds, cultures, generational views and opinions. 

    The days of leaders ‘telling’ are done… or at least, leaders need to be doing less of it. The technique of facilitation when you’re a leader is secretly genius. It’s artful, engaging, collaborative and impactful. 

    Plus we don’t have time to traipse through the levels of Tuckman’s 1965 tired team dynamics model to wait weeks and months for people to be storming and norming before they start performing. Oh yawning! We’ve got to get people together quickly - people who may not have worked together before -  and get things done swiftly,  all the while respecting them, treating them well and acknowledging their views. They're human after all!

    This is what diversity is about and the inclusion of differing views.  

    So yes, there are still some deeply ingrained habits hanging around meetings, workshops and breakout areas in workplaces.

    Here are the top 10 meeting and workshop cliches I see that kill collaboration, smash diversity and slow-up progress. 

    1.    Would you take the notes please (...insert woman’s name)

    Still seeing this way too much. A woman in the room is the designated note taker; is it a hangover from the days of the typing pool or the ever-obliging secretary or worse, ‘because you have such neat writing’? Urgh! Yes, a meeting facilitator can also do note taking. You may argue or not believe you can both facilitate AND capture content, but it can be done, and it’s called Visual Facilitation. Anyway, make people take their own notes or ask ‘who will be our note taker today?’

    Plus the role is so not secretary-ish anymore. It’s a powerful sense making tool - the person who makes sense from complexity and detail is the present day workplace genie!

    2.     I hear what you’re saying but…(we’re going to do this anyway)

    You may have heard advice about the use of ‘but’ in this situation and how that part is the problem... but I think it’s really about the ‘I hear what you’re saying’part.

    Actually you haven’t proven that you’ve heard what they're saying. Plus it’s so habitual and cliched; you must spend a few moments (less that a minute even - relax!) to deal with that person’s comment. Saying you’ve heard it but… is not good enough. 

    And don’t even THINK of saying ‘we’ll take it on board’! Urgh!

    These are verbal slaps in the face. You’ve smacked down collaboration with your impatience for an outcome.


    3.    Lets car park it

    If you have a flip chart or whiteboard with ‘Parking Lot’ written on it I will develop car park rage! It’s another slap in the face. It’s saying ‘we can’t handle this right now…’.

    Actually, no, it's you saying ‘I can’t handle this right now so I’m going to deflect it off over there and then we can speed on to the outcomes.'

    That's another smack down!

    It's another way of saying 'Be quiet. We’re not doing it now.'  That’s effectively what you’re saying. 

    Go ahead and try and get collaboration and engagement going at full speed again after that. It will be hard work.  

    Rather, you need to take that point for a 'drive'. Do not park it. Take it for a test drive and see what happens and where it goes. You might get some other stuff done because of that tiny side track or scenic journey.  And you don't need to spend too long, just a minute, tops. 

    4.    Let’s take it offline 

    Here's another slap in the face. Another version of ‘not here, not now’. You’re saying this meeting now is not the place for it.

    Rather ask ’should we set up another session where we can talk about this - we can cover x, y and z?, or 'what piece of that can we do today, now?'

    Taking it offline is lazy shorthand and workplace waffle and again, if you spent even one minute facilitating an interaction, you might actually get something done on this point and you’d keep collaboration going. At least make this thing into an action and when it will be worked on in at another session. 

    5.    What do others think?

    I call these big blind overhead questions. Shot out there into the group like a cannonball for anyone to catch. It's too big, too fast and too dangerous. Often the louder voices will speak first with a question like this. They've been waiting to let you know what they think for so long now!

    This question is too broad for my liking. Leader as Facilitator capabilities look at how you can narrow the focus in situations like this.

    What are you asking people’s thoughts on: What they think about global warming? About Tom’s new haircut? About the bicycle storage racks in the basement?

    Too broad. Narrow it down. Get focus and facilitate to that. 


    6.    We need to move on

    Someone has done the wonderful duty of contributing and you may feel like things are a little out of control and so you bring this cliche out. You’re not saying ‘we’ you’re saying "YOU need to move on. You have spoken about this for ages. Can’t you just get over it!! Didn’t you hear me??!! MOVE ON."

    Aaah no; people will move on when they are ready.

    This is about you - you need to handle it better; it's not about them needing to 'move on'. 

    Spend a little more time finding out what their concerns truly are or what they want to happen. When they’re really listened to, they’ll move right along.

    It may seem like a paradox or you may fear you'll open a can of worms that will never be closed again, but that's a fear of yours. It works a treat when you actually listen to someone and what their concern is. 

    7.    Are well all in agreement then

    This is often about premature decision making or a leader trying desperately to get to a decision. Perhaps you haven’t even decided HOW you’ll make a decision and yet you’re trying to make that decision.

    So you might bring out this CLOSED question that the group can answer ‘yes' or ‘no' or ‘maybe' to. You can’t ask a group a closed question. The group then has to respond. You could go around and ask them 'yes, no, no, no, yes'… to find out what they think, but it’s a lazy cliche for trying to get closure on a topic or a decision on a topic.

    Set up a clear decision making process and use that. 

    ... Oh sorry, I know I promised 10 cliches but there are only 8, because...

    8.    We've run out of time

    That means two of the cliches haven’t been covered. They could have been the most important pieces of this whole thing! But we didn’t do them upfront in the meeting.

    Too much important work gets rushed, or worse, not done at all. So get your important pieces done first. Not in the order it arrived in your inbox or the order you thought of it, or the order you did it last time. 

    Get the tough stuff done. Yes, you can go for quick wins if you want to build the group’s momentum, but with some capable facilitation you will be able to get through the tough stuff and get even more done than you thought possible. 


    The leader - whether that's a leadership position, title, role or responsibility, or the leader of a meeting - has incredible opportunities to build engagement, gather diverse views and opinions and get important work done. 

    Avoid these cliches; go for more productive responses that keep a conversation going, build engagement and don't slap down. Then you’ll build a stronger environment of collaboration and collective output that will be reflected in the results that team can create. 


    Leader as Facilitator 

    We know the days of barking instructions to people in teams and telling them what to do are fading. 

    Yes sometimes you still need to give instructions or directions but overall, people need to be engaged. Global engagement scores are not good. Must try harder. 

    Additionally, there are countless untapped capabilities in teams the world over, with people just itching to put their experience to work - if only they were asked.

    And plenty of teams aren't quite working at their peak levels of performance because the environment, situation or processes they're working with are slowing them down, stifling them or hindering their opportunities to collaborate and deliver.

    Leader as Coach : too slow and inefficient?

    The Leader as Coach approach has been in play in many industries and organisations for years, decades perhaps. I remember running a Coach the Coach program for a big bank who were helping their leaders be better at those one-on-one conversations. 

    And while coaching is still a highly valued and valid leadership tool, many leaders find the drain, drag and pace of one-to-ones less efficient than they'd like... and need. 

    As one leader said in the bank's coaching program:

    "It take sooooo long to get that person to realise what needs to be done, to go through that GROW model and get them on-board with it. I just don't have the time or patience". 

    And while that may run counter to what leadership or leaders should be like, the realities of pressured schedules, busy teams and project deadlines mean leaders need to leverage more than the one-to-one... at least some of the time. Granted, the one-on-one coaching conversation is a must for performance, development and other discussions. It will always be needed. No argument there. 

    Leverage for impact

    So how else can leaders leverage their time and the interactions with their teams, to inspire the tribe, get them engaged and aligned to the work that needs to be done... and then go ahead and get it done?

    The shift from 'Leader as Coach' to 'Leader as Facilitator' is well underway. 

    Leaders are noticing that leverage is possible when they're adopting the role of a facilitator of their team. Group harmony and cohesion is strengthened and the sheer energy or 'vibe' of the team, tribe or group coming together seems to lift people to build higher levels of team performance. 

    Facilitators make progress easy... or easier. They run a process, respond to what happens and draw on communication tools to make this progress. 

    As a participant in a recent Leader as Facilitator program said:

    "Now I'm able to get stuff done; we talk as a team, I can help remove barriers across the team, we can make decisions and I'm better able to handle the general sh*t that goes down daily in our team." 

    (Note, this leader wasn't naming his people as sh*t; it was more about the finicky, challenging issues and hiccups that happen throughout a typical day when leading a diverse team).

    So leader as facilitator, hey?

    Ah don't be mistaken, facilitation is not ‘soft’ work. Be assured, there are many effective and well-structured approaches and techniques that professional and full-time facilitators use to achieve swift, creative and relevant outcomes with a group.

    And though the 'Shit facilitators say' meme is a good laugh, it's time those cliched phrases and lip service statements were sent to the trash file; they're dated and a poor first response for a present day leader using facilitation approaches with their team. 

    There are many more contemporary, authentic, empathic and realistic ways to get stuff done in teams and keep the team connected to the piece of work via facilitation skills. 

    Diversity demands it

    A leader adopting the capabilities or behaviours of a facilitator is able to achieve outcomes that have a direct connection to business goals, and importantly, get genuine input and contribution from teams and units across the business.  

    It's not enough for a team to meet to just to talk or discuss. In the volatile, uncertain and complex world that businesses operate in, decisions, input and diverse contributions are paramount. 

    In trying to facilitate and drive these types of meetings, many leaders head into steamrolling territory, shutting down contributions or closing down creativity without even knowing it. You might have just caused what you were trying to avoid!

    Then when the room is silent, you might not know what to do. Was it something you said or did?  Possibly. And there's also something else you can do to change that again. 

    It's not soft

    Business facilitation is not about looking at a candle and taking three deep breaths, holding hands or singing 'Kumbaya'. Some industries and fields use this to good effect. I'm not a proponent of it. 

    It's a balance of people participating and contributing AND achieving business outcomes.

    The leader as facilitator needs to balance the business imperatives of:

    • Achieving outcomes
    • Boosting engagement
    • Driving productivity
    • Encouraging contribution.


    Leader as Facilitator is all about using approaches that achieve the things that need to be done. 

    Understanding how to be a Leader as Facilitator puts all of these imperatives to work in contemporary workplaces and makes great things happen.

    Overall, this is about a culture of leadership, a style of leadership in your organisation that you create. It supports teams and leaders with the capability they need to influence, drive and deliver. And that's not 'soft'. 


    "Don't tell ME what to do"

    The days of a leader -- anyone -- being directive and telling people what to do 24/7 are gone.

    Leadership has shifted to being more consultative.

    And it will evolve further to leaders being facilitative, where the leader is able to draw information, ideas and insights out of the team rather than telling, instructing or adding their own thoughts to the team.

    From a childhood memory of being told to 'clean up your room' to adulthood experiences of being told to 'doing this thing in this way', we are self-directed human beings and we don't really like being told what to do. 

    So why are leaders STILL trying to poorly parent their teams and tell them what to do?

    From sharing to eliciting


    The telling role of leaders is shifting from just sharing information where the new strategy or project is 'rolled out' in a darkened auditorium or increasingly cliched 'Town Hall' event (that people THINK is collaborative) to one where the onus is on the leader to elicit information.

    They draw information out through communication, questioning and eliciting techniques.

    This is what builds engagement. Posters, videos, promotional products and pot plants don't build engagement. 

    Humans create engagement with other humans.

    Teams are co-creating

    Changes are afoot in some teams where they're moving from teamwork to collaboration and now shifting and evolving further to people co-creating and working with customers, clients, colleagues and others from diverse fields to make and design the stuff they do.

    Leaders are increasingly needing the capabilities of facilitators, to prime the environment, set up a process for engagement, run that process and honestly and authentically gather the input and contributions from their team. 

    Lip service sucks

    Saying you're using facilitation skills but you're not is clunky and out of touch. 

    Increasingly, consultants, business analysts, project managers, middle level team and people leaders as well as those new to managing and leading a team are seeing and experiencing the benefits of being able to engage with a group or team, draw information from that group, and help them collaborate to achieve an agreed outcome.

    And things are changing for experienced leaders too: leadership styles continue to evolve and shift.

    Diversity needs it

    There is a mix of diverse ages and cultures on every team, and finding ways of engage them and work with them is up to the leader, not the team.

    The days of simply ‘telling’ people in a team what to do are fading; people need to be engaged, their capabilities harnessed and the group given the environment, situation and processes to help them work together and collaborate.

    Today's leader is a facilitator


    Press pause - check you're talkin' about the right thing

    Ooo eeee! Sometimes I think these sorts of behaviours are long gone but I was in a meeting today and three colleagues all spoke over the top of each other... for several seconds. It felt awkward, rude and just... well, wrong!

    I was taking a project brief in this meeting. My job = listening. But I had to step in and play facilitator, to make sure I got to hear what each of them were saying. 

    Sounds so basic, so simple. One person speaking at a time. But no. 

    Three people trying to get 'air time' at the one time so I literally hit the 'pause' button. 

    I said 'Let's pause a moment and hear what each of you need to add to this brief'.

    I pressed 'play' for each of them so we got to hear one 'track' at a time. Two of them had relevant content and thoughts and information. The third had great stuff too, but so unrelated to what we were doing there.

    I step in and play facilitator again and say 'How does this content relate directly to the project and the brief today?'

    She says 'Well actually it doesn't. Sorry about that.'

    I'm happy to play traffic cop, air traffic controller, DJ or director - whatever metaphorical role you like - in a meeting and conversation - but if you're going to speak over someone... well, just don't.

    Wait until there's a break in the music and then start your track.