Why Facilitation is the New Required Skill
Three tasks stood out from my to-do list this week. The first was a “beginning of the year pep talk” meeting with my team at work. My goal was to motivate them to reach our long-term goals for growth and service. The second was participating as a volunteer board member for my local school. They had just received an unexpected donation, and we were tasked with determining how to spend the money. The third was providing some accountability for my son around his weekend curfew. As a high school senior, I noticed he’s been testing the boundaries a little often lately.
As I was planning my week, I realized each task would call on me to be in a different leadership role. To be successful, I would need to share an inspiring vision with my team, work together with my peers, and be a parent to my son. The more I thought about it the more I realized that the ‘standard’ definition of facilitation – engaging participants in creating, discovering, and applying learning insights – is a part of what I do in many, many areas of my life, including each of these.
At Interaction Associates, a meeting is defined as “anytime two or more people work together to share information or take action.” Certainly, my demeanor varies depending on the culture of the meeting, but the tools I have acquired and teach apply to each of these situations.
My personal leadership goals include respectful inclusion, clear communication, and progress toward outcomes. This week provided me with at least three chances to practice.
Being an Inspiring Leader
Accomplishing a major work task requires many people, giving their best. Our goals for this year are both challenging and attainable. When laying out what success looks like for our team, I made sure to craft a story that would reach people on three levels:
- Logic, making sure the ideas made sense and weren’t out of left field.
- Morals and values, that what we are doing matches what we believe.
- Emotion, getting people to buy in to our cause.
It took some crafting, but by the end of the meeting, I could see my team was enthusiastic, confident, and ready to move forward creatively.
Collaborating With Peers
These days, I’m reluctant to volunteer my time for organizations that don’t have a strong facilitative leadership foundation. I don’t really have the time to spend in ineffective meetings that go in circles or can’t create accountable outcomes. (This goes for the professional world, too. The Harvard Business review estimates that $30 billion is wasted on poor meetings annually.) When I choose to participate in a meeting, I make sure that I bring the right tools and count on the others to do the same:
- A collaborative attitude makes me inclusive of others.
- Strategic thinking as a smart, invested stakeholder.
- The process tools that keep a meeting from going off the rails
- An agreement that we’re all in this together.
I entered my volunteer meeting with confidence these elements were in place, and I helped make sure they were being used throughout. Because of that, and because others in the room recognized these tools, we came to an agreement that made a difference for the children in that school (new playground equipment!).
Coming to Agreement
As a parent I’ve fallen into many of the silly, sometimes frustrating, traps that children can set. Some are great semanticists, arguing the meaning of every word until they wear us out. Others are fantastic avoiders, seemingly impossible to pin down when you need them most. Honestly, my son likes to pull out the “confusion” card. Claiming he didn’t understand what I meant when I told him my expectations (and the consequences of not meeting them). These days I use a simple formula for agreements I learned on the first day of my first Interaction Associates workshop:
- First, lay out my clear proposal. “Be home by midnight. If you aren’t, you lose your phone for a day.”
- Second, check that he understands. “What did you hear?”
- Finally, check for agreement. “Now that you understand each other, do you agree to the terms?”
He’s come to recognize this sequence of questions. Even though he may still try to negotiate for a different time or consequence, by the end we understand each other and it’s clear that we do. Now if I can just get him to make the right choice each time! It’s amazing how kids think we will forget what we said we’d do and, wow does he miss that phone!
Interaction Associates teaches the tools for facilitation, and does so in the context of leadership, human interaction, personal achievement, business results, community growth, internal motivation, and making the world a better place. The skills provided in our workshops apply to myriad situations and people. Everyone can benefit from these practices, and, as you can see, not just at work.
About David Alan Brown
David helps leaders and teams imagine an inspiring vision of the future, develop a collaborative work culture, and share responsibility for taking joint action. David models enthusiasm and common sense as a facilitative leader. Prior to joining IA as a Program Leader, David worked as a teacher, adult education director, and youth-at-risk advocate and adviser. David delivers training, meeting facilitation, organizational development consulting. He is a frequent keynote presenter at national conferences, including the International Association of Facilitators, the National Association of Teen Institutes and the Association for Humanistic Psychology. He is the author of three books and several stage plays. David aims to Facilitate Agreement (a practice from the FL workshop) in all areas of his life. "Now that the language and process of propose/check for understanding/check for agreement has become second nature for me, I find it essential for setting expectations and providing accountability." David has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.