Breaking the rules of facilitating
A facilitator is supposed to be a neutral party who keeps time and make sure people follow the rules of the exercise. I’m a facilitation rule breaker and not ashamed of it.
We’re committed to our client’s success and that calls for an engaged partner who can share insights from other verticals, trends and their own experience. This doesn’t mean you should let your ego run wild but you can be more involved. Here’s what I think a facilitator should do:
Design the session – Decide what exercises are best but be willing to change them if needed (a blog post on this is in development).
Frame and focus – Help the group understand what we’re trying to accomplish and bring them back if they go off track.
Change direction when needed – We always create a facilitator’s guide but we’re not afraid to change the plan when we need to.
Manage the energy of the group – Make sure things are productive, use breaks wisely and always have emergency candy on hand.
Connect the dots – Make sure things work together. For example, if we define a customer segment earlier in the session we need to make sure the value proposition we’re discussing now makes sense. When you close out an exercise, make sure to summarize it so the key points are captured. When the group comes back from a break, summarize were we left off.
Point out misalignment – Sometimes we don’t know there is disagreement among teams and sometimes we don’t. Listen for it and bring it to the surface. It helps to ask “What does that mean to you?” often.
Provide an outside point of view – Inside-out thinking holds people back, they need to see that there is a larger universe of possibilities, trends and threats. You can provide that context and help clients move past their limitations.
Challenge assumptions and pressure test concepts – We’re a product development services company, not a facilitation company. Part of the value we bring is our knowledge of how to build product and the scars of things that didn’t work out. This is an asset for our customers.
Include everyone – Make sure everyone can share their thoughts. Give introverts have time to work on their ideas before sharing with the group.
Force prioritization – There is always more we want to do then we can and should do. We need to help clients make these tough decisions.
Be vulnerable – I need to make it OK to take risks so I’m quick my sketches or silly ideas to get things started.
Image: A painting I did for my mom showing the first tracks after a snowstorm