September 3, 2015 Leave a comment
Some of the best methodologists are also capable of facilitating complex topics requiring pre-thought and structure. Sometimes they fall flat on the personality factor, coming off as dispassionate, aloof, or insensitive. Most facilitators default in the other direction, they are typically warm and likeable and good presenters but are frail when it comes to workshop breakdown structure and asking precise questions. It is frankly easier to teach the methodologist how to warm up to an audience than it is to teach people a comprehensive realm on critical thinking—that is, how to think clearly.
As most North Americans are afraid of public speaking, the worst thing they could do is hide behind a podium (to protect themselves) as the separation amplifies the ‘me’ versus ‘them’ fear, causing them to underperform. In the role of facilitator, soften the edges by integrating yourself. Do not speak AT the participants; rather have a conversation WITH the participants.
To become conversational and more natural increases likeability. One solution involves getting closer, measured in terms of physical proximity, to your participants. The easiest way to achieve closeness without violating personal space is to stroll closer to them.
When stuck in a small conference room with a big table or a huddle room with no perimeter, the strolling is difficult but can be achieved by walking around the table, around the room. The U-shaped seating arrangement however makes it much easier to stroll around, get closer to participants, and therefore be more conversational.
Use your space wisely. If participants are vibrant and need a documenter, then stay at the easel as a scribe, while their energy remains high. But when uncertainty or disagreement rises, begin to slowly step forward to make it easier to demonstrate active listening, and to display a sense of respect and importance toward the participant who is speaking.
In the case of an argument, make sure that evidence and claims to support the participants’ positions go through you, and not around you. There is probably no better time to be in the middle of the U-shaped seating environment than when participants are arguing. They need a referee, and serving as referee is part of the role of facilitator.
Smiling Helps More
The two universally accepted non-verbal gestures are open-hands and smiling. Open hands signify culturally that you have no weapons and will not harm the participants. Open hands are far more welcoming than the opposite, pointing.
Smiling is also accepted throughout all cultures. A genuine, smile is found appealing and increases the likeliness that your participants will warm up to you. We must be careful however not to smile too much, inappropriately, or to laugh too loud.
Please smile occasionally, even with serious topics. If the facilitator remains too stern and sober, the participants will tense up, reducing the likelihood of collaboration and innovative thinking. If you need further help learning to smile, practice. Use your introduction material to practice and ask a co-worker or family member to observe and comment on the appropriate timing for a warm smile.
Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiatives, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.
Become Part of the Solution—Improve Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills
The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership-training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).
Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and numerous tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.