NEWSLETTER EDITION: APRIL 2017
Organizations invest a lot of time and money when they get away from the office for a day or two to focus on long term planning or other crucial needs. You want to make sure this event is successful and a neutral facilitator will do that. Many factors are involved in a successful facilitation. This article will help managers and purchasing agents think through these factors and their needs when searching for a professional facilitator for a retreat, team meeting or group conflict.
How can a neutral facilitator help your organization?
Organizations use facilitators for team building, board meetings, group conflict and strategic planning meetings. This is a sample of the types of engagements that Alternative Resolutions has assisted with. A neutral professional facilitator can help an organization make sure they get the most out of the planned event.
The most important job of the facilitator is to help the organization determine the expected outcome of the day. A facilitator does this by asking pointed questions and listening very carefully. From these discussions and any organizational data, the facilitator will prepare a draft agenda which should be circulated to all meeting participants in advance of the event. The agenda serves as a roadmap, not a straitjacket.
What variables affect pricing for facilitation services?
The first variable is the preplanning. This involves working with the meeting sponsor or planning group in determining the purpose and expected outcome of the event. Part of preplanning may involve doing a survey or interviews with a sampling of the meeting participants. It also involves learning about the organization and its mission and reading background documents, such as issue papers, strategic plans, and any other relevant material. The second variable is the meeting record. Does the organization need a verbatim transcript of the meeting, a summary of the action items and recommendations or just typed flip chart notes? The third variable is post-meeting needs. Some organizations want the neutral facilitator to make recommendations based on his/her observations of the group. Finally, the number of attendees expected will also impact the cost.
Is industry specific or subject matter expertise required?
Generally industry specific or subject matter expertise is not required so long as the facilitator commits to learning as much about the organization and the current issues it is experiencing. I have facilitated meetings for a wide range of organizations, corporations, non-profits, federal and county agencies and multi-sector stakeholder groups. I have spent the day chewing on issues of concern with groups as diverse as orthopedic surgeons, community service providers, government IT professionals and advocates for people with learning disabilities. As long as the neutral professional facilitator is committed and invests time into learning about the organization and the issues it is currently confronting, industry specific knowledge is not a prerequisite.
What does a facilitator do besides run the meeting and keep track of time?
The facilitator’s job is to ensure a safe environment so that everyone has an opportunity to contribute and participate in the discussions. She does this by developing ground rules and creating an appropriate meeting structure. She constantly observes the participants to make sure things are working for everyone. She takes the temperature of the room and adjusts the agenda for the needs of the group. If certain topics require more time, she seeks the group’s permission to extend time on that issue. In addition to all of this monitoring, she asks pointed questions to make sure the discussion is aimed at meeting the objectives that the planning group set out in the preliminary meeting design phase.
Why can’t the team leader serve as the facilitator?
This is a great question since many leaders have good facilitation as well as leadership skills. However, if the team lead is responsible for keeping the group on track with the meeting agenda and the meeting purpose, they can’t also be a participant in the event in the same way as their fellow team members. The group would miss the benefit of the leader’s insight as a member of the team. If the leader were to try to facilitate and participate it would be important to identify which hat he or she is wearing each time he or she makes a contribution. In addition, the leader brings experience and a perspective that is not neutral. His or her reactions to team comments could skew the outcome and impact the discussion. The benefit of having an outside neutral is that he or she has no stake in the outcome and is solely devoted to making sure the meeting accomplishes its objective.
Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. In 2017, she was nominated by her peers to the National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals. Ellen is certified by the International Mediation Institute. She provides mediation, group facilitation and training to diverse, national clients. Get in touch with her via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or give her a call at 301-588-5390.