The series on PACT Facilitation continues…
2. Be Declarative
The timid shall never inherit the master performer facilitator’s crown. Be strong. If your job is to facilitate a process to a certain set of outcomes, then declare yourself to/for the group. Tell them (assuming you are in charge of the meeting and the process and are responsible for assisting in getting the group outputs/outcomes out) what’s what and who’s who. Describe the process and the products of your process.
Declare your intentions! Tell the group what they will do, how you plan to get them there, which hoops you’ll collectively be jumping through, which ones are on fire, etc. Be declarative! Then, as you start and throughout your process, ask for feedback, because there may indeed be a better way, or what you want may already exist, etc.
Do plenty of process checks. Ask, “So far, so good? Does this make any sense to you because even though it looks good to me, what do I know—I’m just the facilitator here.” Be declarative about wanting and demanding their feedback. After all, that is why they are on the payroll this day: to fully participate in the process. I tell ’em what I want, how I intend for us to go about doing it, and then I ask for their “questions/comments/concerns” in return. Heck, I beg for their feedback! I ask them to “shoot a warning shot across my bow” (residue to my youth). I plead that they don’t let me drive us collectively down a blind alley on a dead-end street! I may have a plan and firmly declare my intentions, but I’m still open to the warnings of others.
Hey, I’ve been burned before, and I have learned from it. Often it was with my own matches. I’ve learned to get their input and feedback. This concept is not new to the world at large. It’s nothing more than lessons learned from project postmortems—where the project managers learned that the people in their projects saw the bad news on the horizon long before it showed up and screwed up their projects. If only they had asked earlier or had known whom to ask!
Your project participants may see the problematic issues long before you see them. The world’s often been there and done that and know that the light at the end of the tunnel is not the opening in this case, but a freight train coming!Be declarative and see what happens. If not much happens, don’t assume that you are cool and okay. Double- and triple-check with the group. And look for those nonverbal clues and cues that something is amiss!
WARNING! Sometimes you may come on so strong in your “facilitator declarative mode” that members of the group may feel a bit intimidated and unwilling to suggest things or challenge you. You must ensure that the group always feels as if they truly own the content and that we facilitators only own the process. This declarative stuff is a double-edged sword—it cuts both ways. Be careful! A skilled facilitator carefully maneuvers a group through a process using both strong and gentle pushes and pulls while always attempting to be situationally appropriate and focused on the desired outcomes.
3. Write and Post Stuff
Regardless of whether it’s words, diagrams, or charts that can best capture the essence of the team conversation, just don’t stand around while people (including yourself) are talking.
Write or chart it on the flip chart paper and make it visible!
Make it black and white (or color if that will help) so that everyone can see what it is that we’re discussing. Give them something to think about and react to.
If you leave things said as nebulous thoughts floating about in the air in the room, you have not given others a chance to visualize, self-inspect, critique, and fix what it is they are talking about.
Make it visual. Make it visible!
Then post it; don’t bury it by flipping to a new clean page. Keep everything visible. Rip it off and post it!
4. Redundancy by Design
All marketers know that for a message to penetrate the psyche of the receiver and convey the intent of the message, it will need to be repeated . . . and repeated . . . and repeated. Enough said. I don’t think so.
If you’ve said it once, you’ll probably need to repeat it again.That becomes a problem for the people who are quicker on the uptake, rather than those who are slower. Just as group-paced, traditional training is usually held hostage by the slowest in the group, meetings are, too. Those who get it quicker will get irritated with you for thinking that they didn’t get it sooner. This is tricky. Who do you play to—the quick or the slow?
I play to the slow. If I sense a problem with some individuals who are getting annoyed with me, I talk with them on break and enlist them in my efforts to get everyone else on board. They are usually way cool with it, because they’re in on it and know that I know it’s not them! I told you this was tricky! They usually step in during my next bout of “redundantitis,” and help me explain my point. Often they have better command of the group’s language and jargon and can provide better examples, non-examples, and analogies that may actually cause the mental-cognitive breakthrough I was struggling to create.
The whole group breathes that collective sigh of relief when they all get it or know that everyone else has finally gotten it, and Guy will quit beating them over the head with it. I could let my own ego get in the way and not create the tension that redundancy by design causes by saying it once and moving on. But having been burned by that, I have learned from that and will face the short-term wrath of the group in order to ensure that the train is moving ahead with everyone on board.
Also, some of your clients may feel that since they get it (they are often in our same business and naturally want and try to get it ASAP), everyone else must have, too. They may make the mistake that your redundancy is no longer tolerable, because they can actually see the quicker “learners” of the group squirming. But they aren’t often in a position to read the clues and cues in everyone’s eyes as you are from center stage.
This is also tricky—balancing their needs to keep their group happy and see progress—and they get impatient. You’ll need to determine when it’s safest to proceed—when you can leave someone behind conceptually. When will it do little or great damage to your next steps? Will it cause problems in these next steps, will it cause rework, will it cause greater frustration in the rest of the group, will it then destroy any group “teamness” that may be starting to form?
Tricky, eh? We facilitators just need to find mechanisms to help us with all of these issues as they arise. We can’t let our own needs to be perceived as hip and cool by the other hip and cool members of the meeting get in our way of ensuring collective progress. Otherwise, it’ll be rework city, and I hate when that happens!
5. Key Communications Behavioral Types
The singular most powerful insight I have ever gained in my evolution as a facilitator was due to my exposure to a “communications behavioral model” from both a “Win-Win Negotiating” and a “SPIN®” sales training course from Huthwaite, Inc. that I was most fortunate to be involved with in 1981 while at Motorola Training & Education Center (MTEC—the forerunner of Motorola University).
Neil Rackham and others (John Carlisle and I spent some quality time in a 14th century Priory in England while he delivered a Negotiations workshop as part of my “coming up to speed” for MY PROJECT) had built earlier versions of their training that focused on a dozen plus “behavioral traits” as demonstrated verbally. I was “certified” by Neil in time for the Pilot Test of the 3-day Win-Win Negotiations session for sales people, purchasing agents and some governmental negotiators (where they were selling one or two “sophisticated black boxes” for big bucks).
Without going into their entire model, I gleaned four key verbal communication behavior types. I almost always self-categorize my own verbal expressions into these four, even as I say them. And I typically “see” others’ verbal expressions falling into these categories, even as they speak!
The four types are
1. Giving Information
2. Seeking Information
3. Testing Understanding/Summarizing
The “Giving Information” (GI) communication behavior is very straightforward, but important. You are giving information, which is not good if you are supposed to be finding things out! You may need to first give some information before you “find things out,” but you should soon be shifting gears into the next type.
The “Seeking Information” (SI) communication behavior also is simple. It’s typically in question form, either open or closed, depending on what you’re looking to accomplish.
Knowing or feeling your balance in your use of these first two types is important in assessing your successes and failures as a communicator, but nothing beats the next communication behaviors.
The “Testing Understanding/Summarizing” (TU/S) behavior is actually a combination of two, but I often combine them to simplify their use. However, they are different.
TU is when you make statements or ask questions for the purpose of testing out what you think you’ve just heard or what you think you know. Most of us know this as “active listening.”
One of the better ways to do a TU is to paraphrase what was said. Putting it into another set of words, rather than simply parroting it back just as you heard it, allows the sender to better check your receipt of their message. If you parrot it back, all we know is that you remember the words. The further your paraphrasing takes the original words away from the words you use, the easier it is to test for understanding.
It is also best to be somewhat declarative of what you’re doing when you TU. I often announce/declare, “I am testing here,” and then make a statement or ask a question. Then listen for the response, and always read the clues and cues of nonverbal facial and body language. You can also say, “Let me see if I’ve got this. You’re saying that x, y, and then z. Is that right?” Work on your own set of TU phrases. Play with it!
S is where you are simply summarizing. Again, it’s best to provide your own clues and cues to your group. Say, “Let me try to summarize this,” and then do it. Again, if your words stray from the original (but not too far), then it’s easier for the group to react.
This S stuff is very much like a TU, just done in a different mode. You are looking for feedback from the group that you are either right on, just off, or way off. Again, don’t let your ego get in the way! I tell groups that as a facilitator, I can’t be afraid to be wrong because it’ll slow us down. In fact, I’m often wrong. So get used to it! Your job here today is also to correct me and keep me on the straight and narrow path!
TU/S is critical to ensure that we understand the meanings behind the words that others are using. As a colleague of mine once remarked,
“It not just semantics, it’s always semantics!”
TU/S helps us receivers get into the intent of the message sender to check it out. It can be a very powerful tool for a facilitator. However, Socrates used this way back when, so be careful! Watch out for hemlock.
The “Defend/Attack” (D/A) behavior is also a combo. The D is typically in response to a real or perceived A. No matter how it starts, it usually degenerates into a D/A spiral that won’t end until someone interrupts the spiral. The best interruption is a TU/S behavior—something on the order of, “So you’re saying that this proactive facilitator stuff is just a bunch of hooey, and that the author must be a real jerk to perpetuate this garbage by committing it to paper and then disseminating it to the public?” (This is what, a TU or an S?)
Usually a short string of TU’s and S’s are sufficient to diffuse the situation and end a D/A spiral. All that the irate usually want is to be heard (really understood). Get the conversation back to more civilized ground and reduce the heat.
In my mind, the power of TU/S cannot be underestimated. Try it yourself. Try it on the kids. Try it with your significant other. But stay away from gang fights!
Using GI and SI and TU/S and D/A
Once I learned these, I began to “see” all of my own verbal utterings as falling into one of these categories.
I learned to first GI, maybe a little or a bunch, and then to soon TU. Do they get it? For example, “I want us to list all of the outputs for this Area of Performance and then identify all of the key measures of performance for each. Are we all clear on what I mean by performance outputs?”
Or, “We need to identify the typical performance gaps, if any, for this output.”
Or, in response to the group’s input/response, I use a TU for my benefit. “So the typical gap is that they are almost always late in turning in the monthly report?”
I also TU in response to their utterings. “Let me test this out. You’re saying that there are indeed typical gaps, but they don’t sync up with any of the key measures we have currently listed.”
I learned to SI and then S. “What gap do you think there is, and what key output measure would reflect that gap?” I would respond to their response with, “So we seem to be saying that it would be both a time to complete as well as a timeliness measure.”
I learned that the best way to break a D/A spiral was to first TU/S and then either GI or SI. “So you think that Global T&D dropped the ball and didn’t get the vendor into the effort soon enough, driving up your costs due to all of the overtime that was incurred trying to catch up?”
I learned that the more I TU/S the more it benefited the group, because they are sometimes hesitant to appear stupid (really ignorant or slow, but that’s another story). Again, I can’t afford to let my own ego get in the way of potentially appearing stupid, slow, etc. I’ve learned that the really smart people in the room will quickly figure me out and that I won’t appear stupid at all, no matter how hard I might appear to be trying with all of this TU behavior.
This is great stuff. It made me more comfortable to have these communication behavioral tools at my disposal when I first started, and I believe it has made a big difference in my approach and style. It has made me a much better facilitator.
6. Review and Previews
I start and restart every new day of a multiday meeting, any midmeeting process change, and the return from every meeting break with a “review/preview.” Some might call it a progress check. How are we doing, is everyone comfortable with what we have captured, etc.?
I do that, but always within the context of “where we have been, and where we are going.” I like to think of it as recalibrating the group. They are often simply along for the ride, and they are not that interested in learning the process we are using, so they often forget the process (often to the facilitator’s amazement). But hey, this is often our world—this facilitation stuff—not theirs. So I need a way to remind them continuously of what we are doing and where we are going and how it all fits together, etc.
They may do very well in responding to our prompts, giving us their feedback when asked/cajoled. But do not be fooled that after one, two, or even three days that they remember exactly how and why we did each step of our process.
Our model for capturing and analyzing data is probably somewhat alien to them. It’s often very different from their own mental model of how we facilitators should be doing their job, or what their performance or knowledge and skills are/were. And they often play along with us without completely giving up their mental model. They may still be quite comfortable with theirs and not quite comfortable with the new one just emerging.
Anyway, I find that groups often revert midstream back to something else (I often know not what), and I need to recalibrate the group to the process we are using. In fact, I try to do it before it really becomes apparent that it is needed (by looking for those you-know-whats!).
Reviews/previews give us a chance to recalibrate the group, reestablish the models and terms, and just as importantly, give the group a place to “blow off any steam or frustrations that may exist.”
“Blowing off steam” is critical. If the group needs an outlet, they’ll either do it on your schedule or when, in the immortal words of Popeye, “They can’t stands it no more.” You should have seen it coming, in the clues and cues for which you are constantly looking. I always try to provide a safety valve outlet in my process checks: the reviews and previews.
Please do it now and be less disruptive to the main process, is my thought!
Think of this “review/preview” as a combination of
• Slowing down temporarily, to go fast again
• Being declarative
• Redundancy by design
• A progress/process check
Don’t be afraid to do this several times a day and at the beginning and ending of each day.
The review should cover our project purpose, meeting purpose, outputs/outcomes so far, and feedback and inputs.
The preview covers where we are at, where we are going, how we’re progressing against the clock (are we on schedule or not?), and how the remaining agenda items fit into the overall scheme of things.
The review/previews are the time and place for blowing off steam and airing any and all frustrations. Remember, it’s either done on your schedule or theirs. You can try to stop it, but I bet you often won’t be able to stop it at all. You may only make it worse. You may be able to control this to your advantage, but only if you try. It is often, but not always, yours to control.
…more to follow…