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Preparing to Facilitate

This lesson is a part of an audio course Facilitating High Performing Meetings by Ross Maynard

In our first lesson we looked at the three aims of a business meeting:

  1. To review progress against the group's aims and identify the root cause drivers of both poor performance and exceptional performance.

  2. To build a cohesive team that will work together to improve the business.

  3. To develop a team approach to common issues and challenges and develop coordinated solutions to them.

We can use these aims to plan the agenda for the first meeting you are going to facilitate for any particular group. In broad terms, the agenda for the first meeting with a group would likely include:

  1. Background. It is useful to get some background to the group that you will be working with. This includes the size of the team, the type of work they are responsible for, and related questions to help you understand the group you are working with. It can also be useful to explore the history of the issues that you will be working on with the group. How long have these problems been going on, and when, and why, did they first arise.

  2. Agree the goals for the session. What is the outcome that the group would like from this meeting? I find that less is more and that aiming to make good progress against two or three objectives in a session is better than trying to juggle a longer list of desired outcomes.

  3. For the group to discuss the drivers behind the primary goals. Behind every goal, there are drivers. The drivers represent the root-cause motives behind the goal. For example, the goal of improving profitability might have a driver of enabling the owners of the business to boost the share price and sell their stake. Alternatively, the driver behind profitability might be to generate cash for expansion, or to pay down debt. And so on.

  4. Your aim should be to create a shortlist of drivers behind the primary goals. This will likely be a list of three to five main drivers for the business.

  5. To prepare a plan for the drivers. What needs to be done to deliver each driver, so that the primary goals are achieved? What actions are necessary to work towards the drivers? What gaps has this analysis identified? What needs to be done to fill them?

These activities will take up most of your first meeting with the business team, but it creates a framework for subsequent sessions as you guide the team to preparing plans to deliver the drivers and the goals, and monitor progress, updating the actions as needed. It will also help you build rapport with the team to create a cohesive group focussed on delivering the agreed outcomes.

Getting Ready for the Meeting

Once you have your agenda for the meeting, you should spend some time planning how you want to run the meeting. You should bear the following points in mind:

  1. The Meeting is not an appraisal; neither is it a court where anyone is "judged" by his or her peers.

  2. The meeting should be an open discussion of business issues, including what has gone well, and what has not gone well. The aim is to agree actions to improve processes and activities to the benefit of the business and customers.

  3. The discussion should be open and equal. Everyone's points are equally valid, and your aim as a facilitator is to get input from everyone present, and to explore the issues behind performance in an open, constructive manner.

  4. Mistakes and failings should be discussed in an atmosphere of support and understanding, without assigning blame, so that weak points in operational practice can be corrected and completely resolved.

  5. Seek Root Causes, not Excuses. Greeting problems with reproach or disapproval will only result in excuses and justification. An open discussion exploring the root cause of problems with the aim of learning and improving has a greater chance of identifying the real reason for problems. Resources and actions should then be directed to resolve the root causes.

  6. Aim to make the meeting interesting and engaging. Change happens when we are committed to it. The challenge is to make the issues discussed "real" by reviewing what they mean for the group in terms of their daily work, and to agree achievable actions that will drive improvement. The more relevant and real you can make the issues, the more engaged and committed the participants will become.

  7. Feedback is Appropriate; Blame is not. Allocating blame only generates excuses. But feedback can still be given. We'll cover how to give both positive and negative feedback in a later lesson.

Overall, the focus of the meeting should be an improvement, not blame. To quote W Edwards Deming, one of the founders of the quality improvement movement: "Eighty-five percent of the reasons for failure are deficiencies in the systems and process rather than the employee. The role of management is to change the process rather than badgering individuals to do better."

Thank you for listening to this lesson. In our next lesson, we have a short exercise to help you prepare for a meeting.

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Written by

Ross Maynard