Five Steps To Effectively Facilitating A Group

Webster's defines facilitation as "To make easy and less difficult" or "Help bring about".

I would define the facilitation experience as "The act of taking people through a group process with clearly defined outcomes, while encouraging participation and a group commitment to meaningful results." What are five elements that impact the quality of the facilitation experience?

  • Understand your audience — Too often meetings are convened without any knowledge of what expectations people bring to the discussion. The impact is that there is too much focus on the agenda rather than what would be an effective use of the group's time. Shifting your focus to the groups concerns will increase the chance that people will participate more fully, be interested in the topic, and get value from the dialogue. One simple way to learn about your group is to send out an email with your proposed agenda and ask what concerns are they bringing to the discussion.
  • Clearly articulate your purpose and intended outcomes — A very important shift in your planning is to articulate a purpose statement and intended outcomes for the discussion. You should be able to tell the group: "Our purpose today is … and this is what I hope to accomplish." This requires stepping back from what you often think is the purpose (getting through your agenda) and identify more of an umbrella statement that reflects outcomes you hope to achieve.
  • Balance your role — Ideally, you'll engage everyone just enough and at the right points so the group can self-generate a dialogue. The challenge is to continually balance when to stir things up and when to quietly observe. You keep this focus by remembering where the real value lies, that is; what your group has to say is more important than what you know.
  • When you engage the group, think of yourself as a translator — Put yourself in one of your department meetings. If you looked behind the dialogue, you would discover that most people are not listening to each other. Everyone's looking for the right moment to share his or her own ideas. While one person is speaking, others are privately rehearsing their response or preparing a new comment. Add personal stakes, politics and emotion to the mix, and you might as well be observing an international meeting of countries. As facilitator, you are the means for people to take a moment and consider other points of view. Performed successfully, you will find yourself in a position to accomplish the final element.
  • Summarize the dialogue, draw conclusions, and identify next steps — Summarizing is like a break in the action, where everyone takes a moment to reflect on the value of what just happened. This ultimately gives meaning to a dialogue. As facilitator, you are in the position to make this summarizing possible. End the discussion by asking what next steps should be taken and who should take ownership of the different tasks. Assigning tasks to individuals can be enough to keep a process moving forward. At the heart of why meetings are considered a waste of time is leaving out this last step.

Improving your facilitation skills or utilizing an experienced facilitator will elevate what people can expect from a group dialogue. When applied thoughtfully, the purpose of your meetings will be clearer, your audience will participate more fully, and your gatherings will be viewed as a valuable use of people's time.

Presentation Tip: Three Contributors to an Effective Speech
Research your audience and identify what concerns they bring to your talk. Keep your message to three things and reiterate them throughout the speech. If you practice nothing else, practice your introduction. People decide within 15 seconds whether you are worth listening to.

Working-out-loud to drive out information hoarders

The new compensation: going to anti-hoarders? — Scobleizer Robert Scoble has an absolutely fascinating post on the nature of information sharing in the workplace. The upshot is this: at most companies, the systems we use condition us to become what Robert calls information hoarders -- private email systems, private document folders, etc. But in a recent interview with Yammer CEO David Sacks, Robert asked the executive "when companies would be compensating people based on the value they are pouring into the system."

What a great way to phrase that question!

It helps a bit to know that Yammer is a company that provides what amounts to an internal Twitter -- a place for employees to share their status, resources, links, and more, in real time with the rest of the organization. Salesforce has rolled out a similar tool with their Chatter service. Taking a service inside with something like Yammer or Chatter suddenly makes the potential benefit of a more public, status driven workforce make much more sense. From Robert, the upshot is right here:

So, when I go and ask whether we should compensate people based on the information they SHARE with a company, that’s a topic these new CEOs aren’t quite willing to talk openly about.

Why? It freaks the information hoarders out and makes them less likely to change to information sharers. In such a world old systems like Microsoft Sharepoint stay relevant and new systems like Yammer don’t get adopted. I’m quite convinced though that in the future at least some of big-company compensation will come from whether you have good knowledge sharing skills.

Think about the time and energy you spend transitioning when you lose long-term team members. Does your succession plan deal with all the nooks and crannies of intellectual capital your critical employees have collected in their tenure? Do you have a system that capitalizes on that knowledge for the institution at large?

Conditioning employees to practice more diligence in their approach to documenting their work on these company-public systems is one way to ensure fewer information silos, and soften the blow when key team members move on. Robert's post is absolutely worth reading in full.

Brad Power talks cross-functional success with tips for encouraging collaboration

How to Help Process Owners Succeed - Brad Power - The Conversation

Brad Power with the Lean Enterprise Institute offers six terrific tips on bringing teams together to help encourage end-to-end thinking and beat silos. Of note:

Help employees get comfortable thinking in terms of end-to-end activities that together generate value to customers. Encourage cross-departmental activities that solve customer problems, and reward cross-departmental teamwork.

In reviewing the progress of its reengineering initiative, an insurance company shifted from traditional town hall meetings organized by department, to cross-departmental meetings led jointly by the leaders of two departments. The meetings trumpeted successes such as a reduction in customer service inquiries, the teamwork for which cut across a half-dozen departments.

A key to driving toward this sort of integrative approach to delivering customer value is simple, bull-headed persistence. It takes time and attention to steer teams in a new direction, not at all unlike a u-turn in a battleship. But it can be done. In addition to Power's tips around accountability and authority (both instrumental), consider process performance milestones as key indicators for success early on. For example, it might be difficult to track successful outcomes of your first month of cross-departmental meetings. But the simple fact that you held cross-departmental meetings for a month can be reason to celebrate!


Are you ready for millennials at work? Apparently they're already here

How Millennial physicians will impact disease management

Jaan Sidorov, MD a deceivingly bullish post on millennial physicians over at

The Millennial non-attitude about status or rank has implications for the hierarchical command and control that, up until now, has has been overseeing health system. No longer will a VP for Medical Affairs be able to assume young physicians will readily agree to taking “call” in evening outpatient clinics to off-load unnecessary emergency room visits. If a Grand Rounds speaker lacks sufficient eye-candied edutainment in PowerPoint, all the more reason for those young docs to skip out, grab some tofu and surf some YouTube. White coats will be optional and these docs will default to a first-name relationship with their patients.

Why deceivingly bullish? Reading the above passage you might think Sidorov's position is staunchly boomer, deeply rooted in the old myth that whatever generation comes next can't possibly be as hard working, determined, focused as those that came before.

To be sure, there's some of that in his post. So much of the flow of practice in a hospital depends on all parties buying in to the historic framework of how things have always been. Shake that up with med students that don't buy that line on some level and the status quo breaks down, falls apart, disintegrates. When patient care hinges on a status quo student and staffing process that is so fragile, it's no wonder the old school medical community is a touch on edge.

All that said, the millennial transformation at work offers several key benefits for organizations always at the ready for change.

They are technical, and they don't even know it. Millennial employees have an understanding of technology and communication tools which they didn't have to learn, they simply absorbed. They understand email, twitter, social networking and collaboration online at the genetic level, and have experience first hand how these tools make them more efficient communicators. No, they don't communicate the way we do, but don't mistake that for a lack of insight on their part

They are expert collaborators. Fueled by their technical experience, millennials have an innate understanding of what it takes to work together to achieve their objectives. While they might be stymied by an empty cubicle, give them a integration problem and a conference room, and their natural team dynamic takes hold with great positive results.

They have much to teach. If it were 1995, I would be able to make a joke about an 8-year-old setting the clock on the VCR right here. I haven't seen a VCR in years, but the millennials have the same experience to offer today as that 8-year-old of the 90's. They're quick studies, they love to play in the most constructive fashion, they are quick to the point and, most important of all, they really do work to live. There are reminders in the millennial work ethic that can make work better for all of us, if we're willing to listen.

The Burning Platform For Change

Every once in a while management wakes up saying "let's get disciplined".  This is one of those times. In a strong economy, there's no compelling reason to embrace the idea of "doing more with less". The irony is if we were more disciplined in good economic times, downturns like we're experiencing right now would not be as difficult. But that's water under the bridge and human nature - a topic for a different time. The burning platform of "doing more will less" has spread to every industry, from corporate to non-profit, and educational institutions. The challenge is not "How do we get through this?" (which we will) but how can we build organizational structures and practices that retain the disciplines we're putting in place right now? It's easy to justify building stronger foundations when a tornado sweeps through.

Sustainability is a reminder to focus on the long term, not just the next financial cycle. It is necessary to start by tightening our belts, reducing budgets or institutionalizing temporary hiring freezes. But if we don't learn how to retain that discipline when the economy stabilizes or improves, we've learned very little - except to run from a tornado when it strikes.

A great book that takes this long-term horizon on sustainability in Higher Education is Boldly Sustainable, by Peter Bardaglio and Andrea Putman. I highly recommend this book, both in the context of environmental sustainability but more importantly, how Higher Education needs to reorganize business structures and practices to produce greater coordination across academic and administrative functions. This is critical for sustainability in the broadest sense of the word.

Stop calling it collaboration!

If you’re helping a group work together, collaboration is not what you’re looking for.  It’s the behaviors that make up collaboration you want to focus on, most noticeably – coordination.  Coordination can be measured and quantified (who does what, by when and how the work is performed), while collaboration is the spirit these behaviors.  It’s the difference between a vision and a goal.   A vision is where you want to end up while a goal is how you get there.   When someone spouts “let’s collaborate”, trust your instinct and ask them “what do you mean by this?”  You’ll quickly discover there is another layer of meaning that gets to the behaviors you’re trying to influence.

There’s nothing wrong with terms not used in everyday language (otherwise called jargon), except when no one, even the speaker knows what they mean.   Point out these elephants in the room.  It will help everyone get to the intent behind the words spoken.

Raising the Bar on Buy-In!

Asking for "buy-in" to your latest initiative will get you passive indifference at best.  Maybe indifference is what you're looking for - light years improvement from outward dissatisfaction or hostility.  But if what you really want is to motivate stakeholders (senior management, administrators, researchers, faculty or staff) to your idea, buy-in often only produces a willingness to not go against the initiative.  Most likely you're looking for champions or enthusiastic support.  Saying to a group "we're looking for your buy-in" communicates you want to inform, not involve. The way to get enthusiastic support is if you bring them into the circle by asking for help, feedback, ideas and participation.  Yes, some stakeholders may ask difficult questions.  But don't fool yourself into thinking that by keeping them at arm's length with periodic updates that you've got their support. 

Too often the bar is set too low around what we can ask or expect of others. For a group to be jazzed about an idea, you've got to get them involved in the change, not just inform them what's coming.

To learn more about how to do this, feel free to contact me.  I'll be happy to share some of our strategies.
Howard Teibel
617 448-3634 mobile

If It's Not Broke...

There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found traveling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one's position, and be bruised in a new place. ~Washington Irving As part of a larger strategic effort to improve operational performance across your organization, centralizing business functions can be a very useful change. The rationale behind these projects is that by reducing redundancy, the quality of the work can be improved, processes can be made more efficient and cost savings can be realized.

If only it be this easy. Like many initiatives that include structural and people change, solving one problem creates another. Imagine an army of people sitting in their metaphorical chairs for years at a time, comfortable with what they know and their position in the organization. Centralizing work changes all the rules.

Three guiding principles will help when embarking on centralizing work projects:

1. Getting management on the same page

The best way to create positive momentum on these projects is to have leadership speaking with one voice. Once new roles are defined and the model is tested (ex: a Business Center becomes operational) it is critical for staff to know that management will hold people accountable to their new roles. Without a consistent voice from management and regular reminders of people's roles, staff will push on the boundaries of their shifting responsibilities, making it much more difficult for everyone to adjust to the new model.

2. Building trust by being inclusive

The process your staff will go through getting accustomed to new roles and responsibilities takes time and requires patience from everyone involved. Management should set up check points where people can weigh in how the new process is working. Asking for feedback and genuinely listening to their ideas and concerns will go a long way to helping build trust. The more people feel they have a voice, the more they will take ownership in the change.

3. Attitude is everything

Two primary groups are affected by this change - those who will be inheriting the work of others and those giving up pieces of their job. Although this can be stressful, at some point people need to make a choice - they're either part of the solution or part of the problem. This doesn't mean accepting an unworkable process, rather for all players to ask themselves what they can do to help the new process succeed.

By applying these three principles - Leadership speaking with one voice, management listening to staff ideas and concerns and most importantly everyone asking themselves how they can be part of the solution - this is how you get through initiatives that involve changing roles, responsibilities and reporting lines.

The New Normal

You'd be lying to yourself if you weren't privately hoping for the stock market to stabilize, win back your losses and pick up where you left off last September 15, 2008. It gives me comfort to think this is just another blip in the big picture and all that's needed is time for the recovery. The prevailing wisdom is "let's just get through this." Although denial is a powerful emotion and an effective way of getting through difficult times, maybe "getting though this" is not what we should be striving for. If a crystal ball could somehow show that the next five years don't look much different from today, would you navigate your business decisions differently right now?

Management struggles with questions like: Is this the time to invest or be conservative? Retrench or expand? Do we shed more workforce or move forward with what we've got? It’s even tougher for those who don't know what management will choose to do next. Am I being leveled with or should I start looking for work elsewhere?

Regardless of our role, we need to find ways to focus on accepting the challenges ahead without becoming pessimistic.

Step One: Stop fixating on the business section of your newspaper (For those who believe "information is power", continue reading but remember bad news sells much better than good news!)

Step Two: Consider we're all adjusting to a "New Normal", which is the idea that things will never go back to the way they were. Navigating the new normal is the equivalent of hitting the reset button on your computer and starting with an entirely new set of expectations, balancing reality with a positive view of the future.

A Necessary Core Belief The irony of this very difficult economy is that with so many challenges facing us, including debt issues, job losses and people’s concerns at home, many of us will come out stronger. For those that do come out ahead, a common theme you will find is a view of the world centered around optimism. Not false hope but a sense that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Optimism drives ones sense they can make a difference no matter how bad things get.

Consider the following: Management across all industries are beginning to raise their heads above the fox hole and are asking “Who are the people we want to move forward with”? Today, there is as much an opportunity to stand out as a contributor than ever before. The key question in the face of this culture of pessimism (often driven by the news) is: Can you avoid getting sucked into negativity and remain aware of the challenges, while remaining positive?

Yes, being awake to the challenges surrounding us can be emotionally draining and difficult to deal with as one person. In business, we address this by focusing on teamwork, which is much more than a poster on the wall that offers pithy sayings how to get things done. Businesses in this new economy will fail if they don’t learn how to put real teamwork into practice. Think hospital emergency rooms as the model for effective teamwork. Behave with this sense of urgency and you’re more than halfway there.

If you can find ways to bring optimism and genuine teamwork to your organization (or a business you’re looking to join), you become part of the solution. Wait for things to change and hope for the best - you’ll probably find yourself on the sidelines with a reinforced view why things are so bad.

The Art Of Delegating

All of us need to delegate at some point. Whether we're the person in charge or doing front-line work, delegating is a critical skill to be effective in the workplace. The difficulty is it requires the following four key behaviors:

  • Ability to instruct or teach
  • Patience
  • Allowing the other person to make mistakes
  • Letting go of an insatiable desire for control

Many of us have forgotten what's it's like to learn something new. Our own skills and competence came from others allowing us to step into new roles or responsibilities. We learn best by doing, and delegating to others gives them that opportunity to grow.

When delegating, keep in mind these three things:

  1. Does the delegatee understand what's expected of them? Don't assume. Ask!
  2. Are you prepared for the delegatee to make mistakes or come back with questions? If not, don't delegate the work. You're only setting them up for failure (in your eyes).
  3. Are you willing for this person to do the work using their style and method? How one performs the task is only one way it can be accomplished. Focus more on the outcome you're looking for, not the style or method someone uses to get there.

There Is No "Right Solution"

What makes for a great solution?  First, understand that there are real alternatives to solving a problem.  Teams at all levels in an organization fall into "analysis paralysis" because they fear making the wrong choices.  Instead, focus your team to find the best solution that takes into account the following factors...

  1. What is the urgency? The greater the urgency, the more willing your team should be to act.
  2. Are the problems understood sufficiently to make a sound recommendation? Again, this is not turning over every stone, but making sure there is a consistent enough understanding by the entire group to come to a sound decision.
  3. Does the solution address the problem? Once a decision has been made on how to solve the problem, teams have already spent way too much time discussing the issue.  There is a "fatigue factor" that comes into play, with the collective group losing focus whether the solution still lines up with the problem.

To combat this fatigue, get to a solution with as little process and brainstorming as necessary.  With a reserve of energy still in people's battery, validate the solution against the defined issues.  Tweak the solution and check again.  Treating this as an iterative exercise will yield greater results than spending too much time hashing over the issues.  With this approach, you will end up with a better solution in half the time.

Communicating Bad News

Breaking down communication barriers is no easy task, and it opens the classic question of what comes first, the chicken or the egg? Management is waiting to hear what’s really going on while staff is waiting to hear it’s ok to communicate breakdowns or bad news. (This, by the way, is not the same as complaining, which is communicating bad news with no commitment to action.) Organizations are often left with the “blame game” being played out over every missed deadline or poorly rolled out deliverable.  Here's what management needs to realize - your staff will not take the step of communicating bad news unless you explicitly demand it of them. For staff - you may never get explicit permission from management to stop filtering bad news.  The good and bad news?   Regardless of your role, the ball is in your court.

Decision-Making and Leadership

A book that was recently introduced to me by a good friend has validated and deepened my view on leadership, how decisions get made and trust. “Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes For An Answer”, written by Professor Michael Roberto, speaks to the value of a decision-making process that focuses on “deciding how to decide” versus the purely efficient approach of finding the “right solution” to a problem. Focusing on the “decision-making process” has tremendous benefit around building trust in and across organizations. Why? Senior leaders rightfully see themselves as charged with making the right decisions for their organizations. They have a genetic disposition to seeing a problem and quickly identifying the solution. Isn’t this what we expect from those in charge? But what if being in charge is less about having the right answers and more about using the people around you to come up with the “best solution”? This is one of the premises of Michael Roberto’s book.

It makes perfect sense to solve a problem quickly when the issue is straightforward or lacks complexity. Asking for collaboration when there is no intention to consider alternatives is disingenuous and only serves to diminish trust.

However, there are many more decisions that would benefit from rigorous dialogue before coming to a decision. Cutting work force, expanding to different markets or generating new revenue streams are all examples of decisions that have many layers of complexity. In these cases, bringing the right people together having the right conversations increases the likelihood of a well thought out solution. And with the presence of honest dialogue, a higher level of trust can develop between parties.

If we find ways to encourage participation in problem solving, starting with “deciding how to decide”, our leaders and managers will be jumping out bed to get to work and participate in healthy debates. This is exciting work and gets people powerfully engaged. Not only will you get better results, but you’ll see trust in action.

You can also find Professor Michael Roberto’s blog at

Making Change Stick: Moving Beyond the Rah! Rah!

What does it take to make change stick? I'm talking about a month after the organizational retreat. The mission that was so clear over coffee and muffins now seems like a lifetime ago. What happened? In this issue we will discuss what it takes to keep momentum building around organizational change, especially after your people have a glimpse at the light at the end of the tunnel.

Anyone who has ever successfully done anything that requires personal effort, like losing weight, quitting smoking, or going back to college at forty eight, knows the difference between insight and action.

Insight is hope minus action, a sense that something new is possible. It's moving beyond skepticism, doubt and even resignation. Hope is that first step to initiate any meaningful organizational or individual change. The dilemma with hope, however, is it will not "carry the day", or even a few days after that inspiring offsite.

That Intoxicating Feeling

Organizations do many things to bring insight to their staff — retreats and team buildings are two examples where renewed hope becomes the intoxicating elixir. "Maybe this can become a fun place to work again", or "I really enjoy my job" and even a senior management perspective that "We can become an effective, high-performing team." This feeling can lift the burdens and annoyances off the collective shoulders of an entire organization — until the next morning.

All it takes to kill hope is step back into your office. The "hope zapper" starts ticking. Check your 150 emails (delete 125, scan 15 quickly and read 10), check your voicemail and attend two meetings. You're done. By the end of the day, you could swear how you felt yesterday must have been a dream. Does any of this sound familiar?

Good News and the Bad News

The good news is you weren't dreaming. The bad news is the honeymoon is over before it started. "So what's the point of inspiring me only to have it go nowhere?" you ask.

Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have—and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.

— James Belasco and Ralph Stayer Flight of the Buffalo (1994)

I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.

— Aldous Huxley

What do these two quotes point to? Simply, that change is personal, even organizational change is personal. Organizations don't change. People change. And this requires two very basic yet difficult traits to bring to the table — patience and perseverance. Here's a direct quote from one of my customers prior to a recent organizational retreat:

"What will be the follow up to this retreat? We're spending a lot of time and money on this. My experience with previous workshops that were similar to this one is that there was no on-going follow up, so, generally, the participants (including me) went back to their old habits, ways of relating to others, etc."

Confusing Insight with Action

The bottom line is too often we confuse awareness with action. We set the wrong collective expectations for people — that somehow the work ends once the problems been identified. One of the key messages I deliver over and over again in organizations offsites is "the work begins when we're done." Not a popular message but the truth.

As stated in the client quote above "there was no on-going follow-up." In essence, the organization (both management and staff) went back to sleep. Why? Because it's hard work to change behavior, have the honest conversations about commitment and accountability. It's much easier to commiserate about too much work and not enough time.

Where do you start?

The next time you find yourself inspired to make changes, consider that the feeling will not get you there — not even close. It's about having the patience and perseverance to keep revisiting the need for change in the face of nothing changing. Nothing is going to make that easy, but that's at the heart of where change is possible.

Are you inspired? I didn't think so. Now get back in there and do the hard work that will lead to the change you saw was possible.


"Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish."

— John Quincy Adams