Image Description

Building an Environment of Creativity, Trust, and Involvement

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

As I said before, that the facilitator is a catalyst whose role is to bring out the best of everyone in the session. The facilitator is not the leader or the sole source of expert knowledge. The facilitator is the enabler, and everyone's contribution is sought and is equally valid.

This is not easy when the facilitator is the boss! If you are the manager of the team, and you are facilitating the meeting, then the participants (who are your subordinates) can feel anxious and may be reticent to make comments that might show them in a less-than-perfect light or might be perceived as disloyal.

It is your job to break through this status barrier and build an environment of trust, openness, and creativity. This requires building a strong relationship with your team in the workplace (not just in the meeting). There are no quick wins to do this, but the following characteristics may guide you:

  1. Be authentic: listen, seek to understand; explain your actions, and engage.

  2. Be empathetic to the different personalities and learning styles of everyone in the team.

  3. Lead by example. Be open; actively encourage a wide range of views and ideas. Open the meeting by being honest about something in the plan that you've messed up or haven't achieved yet.

  4. Don't criticise individuals. Make it safe to reveal problems without attaching blame to them.

  5. Recognise that problems are caused by a poor process, not by the people working in it.

  6. Provide training in problem-solving and improvement tools and other team skills.

  7. Emphasise improving the process rather than short term results.

  8. Communicate openly and frequently, welcoming feedback and questions, and responding to them positively.

  9. Respect people's efforts and reward supportive behaviour.

  10. Encourage teamwork and pride in the success of the team.

Holding meetings in an online environment can make it more difficult to get engagement – you don't have the same scope for building rapport, and you can't see the body language so clearly.

My advice for online meetings is split into two areas – the technology and the meeting itself.

First, get the technology right:

  • My first piece of advice is to never ever facilitate a meeting on your phone. It is not going to give a good impression.

  • Second, use a laptop or desktop computer. I would advise acquiring a second monitor for your computer. That way, you can display your preparation notes and a list of the participants' names on the second screen while the meeting is shown on the other screen.

  • Third, check the quality of the webcam on your computer. Unless you have a very high-spec computer, the chances are that the inbuilt webcam is not that great quality. You can buy a 1080p HD webcam for twenty to thirty pounds here in the UK. I'm sure they are as cheap elsewhere. I'd advise you to consider a headset or decent quality external microphone too.

  • Fourth, you want to prepare a comfortable sitting position where your WIFI signal is strongest. In fact, if you have any doubts about the strength of your WIFI, buy an ethernet cable and connect your computer directly to your broadband router. That will give you a much stronger connection.

  • Fifth, if you are working from home, you also need to be aware of other people in the house. If you have kids, pets, or housemates, then they need to be kept quiet for the duration of the meeting. Your dog going off on a bark-fest or your kids screaming and chasing each other around the house is not going to help your professional poise. I actually have a 10-meter high-quality ethernet cable so that I run meetings in the spare bedroom upstairs out of the way with the door firmly shut. If you live in a busy house, you might want to consider that option.

  • Sixth, get familiar with the software you are using. Your meetings are likely to take place on Microsoft Teams, Zoom, GoTo Meeting, WebEx, Google Meet, or Skype. Watch videos about the programme on YouTube. See if you can set up a short practice meeting using the software with a colleague or friend, or sign up for a free webinar that is using that programme as its platform.

In terms of facilitating an online meeting, there two main challenges:

  • There might be a connection or technical difficulties that interrupt the session. These can be caused by a poor connection by the software freezing or other technical issues. As I said before, make sure you have the strongest connection possible, but it is not much you can do if other technical problems arise. Just don't panic and try to get it stabilised as quickly as possible. If necessary, go tell the group that to log out and log back in again, or rearrange the session.

  • Secondly, it's harder to establish rapport with your audience in an online setting. You only really see their faces, and the picture quality can be variable. Also, people often accidently talk over each other, causing confusion and distortion on the line can mean you don't hear what is said.

If you are facilitating an online meeting, my advice is to go more slowly than you would in a face-to-face setting and actively check for understanding more. With less visual cues that you would get in a face to face meeting, you need to actively check understanding more. I would also suggest that you nod more vigorously than usual to show that you have heard or agree with a comment. You should also speak more slowly and distinctly than you might if meeting face to face.

Building rapport is more difficult in an online setting, but it is possible. You should still make eye contact with each participant in turn and address your comments directly to the person raising a point. Then check in with the others to see if they want more information. Smile frequently and appear as actively engaged as you can.

Thank you for listening to this lesson. In our next lesson, we have a short exercise to get your mind working on your facilitation skills.

Image Description
Written by

Ross Maynard