On Facilitation Suggestions from Meeting Participants
by Rick Brenner
Team leaders often facilitate their own meetings, and although there are problems associated with that dual role, it's so familiar that it works well enough, most of the time. Less widely understood are the problems that arise when other meeting participants make facilitation suggestions.
Silly putty dripping through a hole. Silly putty is an example of a non-newtonian fluid. There are many kinds of non-newtonian fluids, but silly putty, which is a dilatant material, is particularly interesting in the context of facilitation suggestions by participants. In silly putty, the shear viscosity increases with applied shear stress. That is, the harder you hit it, the more viscous it becomes. It can drip through a hole, as shown above, but if you hit it with a hammer, it cracks. Here's a link to a video of what happens when you drop a 50-pound ball of silly putty off the third story of a parking garage. It shatters!
Making facilitation suggestions to a meeting in which you are yourself a participant can have analogous consequences. The resistance of the group can depend on their perception of your investment in your suggestion. If you seem to be heavily invested, they are more likely to reject your suggestion. Photo by Glitch010101 courtesy Wikipedia (CC BY SA 2.0).
Meeting participants who make procedural suggestions to the Chair, or facilitator, or to the meeting as a whole, are taking on a portion of the role of facilitator. When these suggestions are welcome, well timed, and infrequent, they can improve the flow of the meeting.
And sometimes facilitation suggestions create problems. Offering a process suggestion can be a risky move, even when the group is stuck or in chaos. Here are some tips for improving the chances of making suggestions that actually help.
- Accept that the participant view is biased
- Involvement in the discussion can obscure your view of it. This is why dispassionate facilitation by an uninvolved party is so helpful.
- Facilitation suggestions from participants can still be helpful, though, if you present them from an honest personal perspective, and if they are received as information about how the discussion looks from your perspective.
- Accept the facilitator's skill
- If someone is acting as the formal facilitator, he or she might already have thought of any process suggestion you might offer. And there might be good reasons for not adopting it, or not adopting it yet.
- A suggestion might nevertheless be welcome, if you offer it in a way that acknowledges the facilitator's skill and perspective.
- Neutrality helps
- If you've already taken a position on the matter in question, or if people believe they know what your position is, some who hold other views might interpret your facilitation suggestion as a ploy to advance your own position on the matter, even if that isn't your intention. This is especially likely if the discussion is polarized. And it doesn't matter to others whether they can divine how your suggestion advances your position — they can doubt anyway.
- Your Your facilitation suggestions
are more likely to be accepted
if you've been neutral
on the matter in questionfacilitation suggestions are more likely to be accepted if you've been neutral on the matter in question, not only in the current discussion, but in all previous related discussions.
- Alliances can erode credibility
- Even if you've taken no position on the matter in question, facilitation suggestions can be seen as attempts to seize or consolidate power within the group. For instance, if someone who's seen as an ally of yours would benefit from the suggestion, doubters might assume that the two of you have a deal going.
- Restrict your facilitation suggestions to matters that don't advance your own position or the positions of anyone regarded as allies of yours.
Timing is perhaps the most important factor that affects acceptance of facilitation suggestions. Ideas offered to save time by avoiding a process you regard as wasteful are rarely accepted. Ideas offered after significant time has been lost in a futile search for resolution are more likely to be accepted. The long way around is sometimes the shortest path. Top Next Issue
Do you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!
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More articles on Effective Meetings
- Irrational Self-Interest
- When we try to influence others, especially large groups or entire companies, we sometimes create packages of incentives and disincentives that are intended to affect behavior. These strategies usually assume that people make choices on rational grounds. Is this assumption valid?
- What Makes a Good Question?
- In group discussion or group problem solving, many of us focus on being the first one to provide the answer. The right answer can be good; but often, the right question can be better.
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: Part III
- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings (meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or video) can make life much easier for everyone by taking steps before the meeting starts. Here's Part III of a little catalog of suggestions for remote facilitators.
- Tangled Thread Troubles
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- Speak for Influence
- Among the factors that determine the influence of contributions in meetings are the content of the contribution and how it fits into the conversation. Most of the time, we focus too much on content and not enough on fit.
See also Effective Meetings and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.
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