Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke


Facilitative Leadership

Volume: April 2019

Harold is excited about brainstorming with his team to develop new sales strategies. He feels prepared to lead a meeting and decided that a facilitated approach was appropriate. Rather than ask a colleague or outside expert to facilitate the session, he decided that his expertise in sales would serve him just fine in leading his team.
He set up the room perfectly. The tables where his team was seated were positioned in a large U-shape. He had two flip-charts in the front of the room, the appropriate level of natural lighting was streaming in, and Harold, already looking triumphant, stood proudly in front of his fine team.
Ignoring any type of icebreaker, Harold began the meeting with a brief comment stating that we all know each other and know why we are here. Then he asked for ideas to boost sales. A bit dazed by his shotgun approach, the team members mumbled in confusion. Irritated by an initial lack of response, Harold began to answer his own questions with his ideas. Since the group was not in agreement with Harold’s ideas, they sat quietly so as not to anger him further. The meeting ended quickly and abruptly. Harold harbored animosity against his team, and team members felt as if they wasted time and had been attacked.
Have you ever been in a meeting such as this? Led by a leader with good intentions, but essentially delivered with combat tactics? The resulting atmosphere leading to pressure on the attendees, and awkward silences? You are, unfortunately, not alone.
So as not to emulate Harold’s performance, let us delve into this concept of facilitative leadership and compare it briefly with the topic of leading meetings. Similar to leading a meeting, yet subtly different in how it achieves solid results is the concept of facilitating. The two primary ways in which facilitating group discussion differs from leading meetings are as follows:

  1. When you lead a meeting, you drive the conversation. In addition, you freely express your thoughts, your direction, and your opinions. Typically, all participants, yourself included, are seated when the meeting commences.
  2. When you facilitate a meeting, however, it is important to remain as impartial as possible. When facilitating you act as a skilled invisible hand, while plucking informational jewels from an increasingly engaged audience. The people sharing thoughts and ideas are seated, while you, the impartial facilitator, stand or sit at the front of the room.

In a nutshell, leading a meeting takes good mechanics, while facilitating a group discussion is an art. A note of caution: when you, the leader, choose to facilitate a session with your team it is imperative that you keep your opinions to yourself. If you begin to direct the group, you will quickly hijack the session and maximized results will not be achieved. If you think that you will want to comment on topics, engage the services of an impartial professional to facilitate the meeting.
So, with all of this in mind, how can you perfect the art of facilitation? Here are a dozen of items to consider.

  1. Review presentation skills & non-verbal communication. You will need to be on top of your presentation game while facilitating. In addition, your use of proximity and non-verbal communication will be critical while subtly encouraging participation.
  2. State a clear purpose for the meeting. Let the attendees know if the meeting’s goal is to brainstorm, solve an issue , take sales strategy to a higher level, etc.
  3. Set up a parking lot. Have a flip chart page designated as a parking lot. Any items or topics that are off agenda may be placed on the parking lot for review at the end of the meeting or at a later time.
  4. Review the rules. If you plan on using time outs or special voting techniques, say so in the beginning of the meeting as to avoid confusion during the session.
  5. Break the ice. Even though you may have a group that has worked together for years, do some type of ice breaker or team building exercise. This action allows everyone to have fun, let their hair down, and relax. In other words, it sets the tone for a productive facilitation.
  6. Ask brilliant open-ended questions. A good facilitator asks awesome questions. The answers to well-timed, well-crafted questions typically yield an abundance of useful information and ideas.
  7. Lock-in on attendees. Focus on the dynamics of the audience. Stay attuned to body language and use techniques such as vocal variety and proximity to keep the group engaged.
  8. What else? This is perhaps the best question that an impartial facilitator can ask. When uttered with an empathetic tone, delivered with open body language, and coupled with a purposeful pause, the question “what else?” will mine golden nuggets of ideas and opinions from your team.
  9. Effectively use flipcharts and whiteboards. Visual aids assist in emphasizing important information. In addition, they make ideas come to life, and serve as a means for review.
  10. Protect and encourage. Facilitative Leadership calls for you to protect people who share “fringe” ideas, and to encourage team members who offer great input by saying: “Wow, that’s terrific, what else do you have to share?”
  11. Summarize. Intermittently throughout the session, as well as at the end, the facilitator should summarize what the group has offered. The intermittent verbal summary essentially gives the group an opportunity to digest and process. The verbal summary at the end validates that the deliverables were accomplished and provides a window to praise the group for their focus and achievement.
  12. Work Product. Send out a written report which summaries the session and highlights appropriate next steps or actions. The summary should also share additional praise to the group, as well as ask for feedback and enhancements from the participants.

Bottom Line: Effectively facilitating a meeting demonstrates a broad range of skills. Facilitative leadership is more subtle than the directive approach used when leading a meeting. In the end, the flexibility to direct or facilitate a meeting benefits team members and maximizes the time spent during group exchange.
Doug Van Dyke is a Tampa Bay based executive coach, leadership development expert, and strategic planner. To learn more about leadership development programs, coaching, strategic planning, and consulting services, visit www.leadershipsimplified.com or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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