It’s the middle of the night. You’ve woken up with a brilliant idea on how to improve the way your business product is delivered to your customers. You scribble it down and can’t wait to share it with your co-workers during your morning meeting.
The appointed hour arrives and you get your idea onto the agenda. Unfortunately the meeting proceeds without focus and at the speed of really good ketchup—slow. The person directing the meeting has gone over the same things you've already discussed ad nauseum, and your co-workers are mired down in dissecting ideas before anything tangible can be accomplished. By the time your agenda item is up for discussion, everyone is tired and frustrated. The nitpicking has drained all the energy out of a potentially terrific idea.
What is happening in this meeting? While it might be easy to blame it on your co-workers, the boss, or your team leader - the real culprit is process, or lack of it. A good meeting must be orchestrated like any other; it's a creative group effort. If you start with an unfocused agenda, add group members who are unclear of their roles, and mix in a lack of clear guidelines about participation, you have a recipe for a snoozefest. . . or worse.
Traditionally, companies have asked their leaders to have all the answers, take control, and make tough decisions. The result has been a directive leadership style where one “boss" is in charge, and employees are often reluctant to openly express their opinions. This system places tremendous pressure on management, and the organization loses out on many valuable ideas. Meetings tend to get bogged down in minutia with few tangible actions taking place beyond the initial discussion.
Thankfully, this command leadership model is in decline, becoming a thing of the past. Increasingly, organizations are turning to all members for their energy, commitment, and brainpower. Input from all employees requires a shift in leadership from controlling to facilitative. This change may take time in your organization because many of us have been conditioned to put the person in the front of the room in control.
Skillful facilitation can significantly improve your meetings. And, your brilliant product idea will actually have a chance! Effective facilitation will not only rev up your company’s meetings, with patience it will lead to a more collaborative way of making decisions.
Team members learn their ideas are valuable, they gain new interpersonal and leadership skills, and they begin to become more engaged in team projects. Employees become less reliant on management for answers and begin to draw on their own resources. They begin to bring solutions to meetings instead of coming with questions.
Managers can learn to use a facilitative style, team members can be trained to facilitate, or the organization can hire an outside facilitator to help meetings become more effective and participatory. Ideally, each team member will ultimately become leaders and skilled facilitators.
Here are 10 tips for facilitative leadership you can incorporate into your meetings. Used consistently, these guidelines will turn your meetings into events that everyone highlights on their calendar.
1. Stay on Track: Create an effective agenda to keep the action moving. When discussion strays, the facilitator has the responsibility to keep things on track by referring to the agenda and reigning in off-topic discussions.
2. Develop a Parking Lot: Side comments have their place. The facilitator can record side issues on a “parking lot" flip chart. At the end of the meeting, determine when the team would like to address the parking lot issues.
3. Create Rules: Decide on ground rules for your meetings and hold team members to them. For example, a rule such as “No team member may interrupt another" or “Comment periods are limited to 10 minutes" can be ways to ensure your meetings don't get dominated or bogged down.
4. Give Everyone a Voice: Draw out shy members by taking turns until each group member has given his or her input. Ask individuals for their opinion if they are not talking. When dominating members speak up, the facilitator keeps their comments controlled so others have a chance, too.
5. Break the Ice: Try creativity games and teambuilding exercises to liven up your meetings and discover new insights. Particularly if you have cross-functional teams, this can give people from different departments and management levels a chance to know each other.
6. Create Action Items: As agenda topics are discussed, the facilitator should take notes that include tangible action items, a person who is responsible for following through on the action, and a deadline. Action items can be e-mailed to everyone after the meeting as a reminder.
7. Build Consensus: Facilitative leadership is about building agreement and cementing teams. Work to create outcomes that reflect the ideas of all team members. Treat all participants as equals and work hard to create an open and trusting atmosphere.
8. Be Firm and Impartial: A good facilitator is not passive. It's important to use assertiveness to keep people on track and on time. When a team member is facilitating the meeting, he or she is NOT a participant. If the facilitator must make a comment about the discussion at hand because they are a key player, he or she must make it very clear they are momentarily taking off the facilitator “hat. "
9. Work to Understand: High stress levels at the workplace can create cynicism among team members. A facilitator should pay careful attention to group dynamics, listen attentively, maintain eye contact, and manage conflict.
10. Cultivate optimism: The facilitative leader does not allow disinterest, shyness, pessimism, or other negative behaviors to throw off the course of the meeting. Instead, the facilitator helps the group to succeed and work hard to stay positive, even when team energy is at a low point.
Wendy Maynard, your friendly Marketing Maven, publishes REMARKABLE MARKETING, a free weekly ezine for entrepreneurs, business owners, and freelancers. If you're ready to skyrocket your sales, easily attract customers, and make more money, sign up for her FREE ezine and marketing report now at http://www.gomarketingmaven.com