Facilitating meetings with colleagues – managing challenges

Facilitating meetings with colleagues should ideally be a productive and straight-forward task.

When this task involves people, challenges can arise…

In talking with other facilitators and clients, several are finding common challenges emerging in their workplace:

  • There are often polarised views around the table, with people feeling a bit threatened and wanting to ‘defend their turf’.
  • People are often ‘instructed’ to be part of a meeting that they don’t want to attend.
  • A ‘repeat offender’ continually brings negative and sarcastic comments to the table.

Some of these issues were covered in a Masterclass that I attended at an International Association of Facilitators (IAF) conference.   A key concept was getting people to move from their ‘positions’ (what they publically hold) to ‘interests’ (the things that really matter to them).

A scenario for facilitating meetings with colleagues

Let’s go through a scenario that covers the above issues, this will help you to prepare for facilitating meetings with colleagues – the Working Group Meeting

Say that you have a meeting about the new office plan.  Amy has arrived late, finishing a call on her mobile, just in time for you to ask her to introduce herself.  Instead, she clearly states her position when she says, “I don’t want to have anything to do with the new office refurbishment!”facilitating meetings with colleagues

At face value, this seems like Amy is drawing a line in the sand.  And nobody is crossing that line!  Those folded arms of hers are sending a clear message!

Remember at this point that our job as a facilitator is to ask questions, not make judgements.  So at this point, we need to pause, count to three (silently is better – less disturbing for participants) and think of a question to ask Amy.

The classic, simple one here is, “OK – tell me more.”

Be ready though, this could go in a few directions.  Just be focused on listening to her response and note some of the key points so you can reflect these back.  Here’s how the conversation may flow, with you using open-ended questions to get Amy to talk more about the situation.

Amy:           “Well in my last job, the office refurbishment was a complete debacle.  It got really messy, nobody was happy!”

You:             “How about you?  How did you feel about it?”

Amy:           “Not happy at all!”

You:             “So why do you think they were unhappy?”

Amy:           “Well, they were uptight about where they’d end up sitting and who they’d be sitting near.  Nobody got what they wanted.”

You:             “Why was that?”

Amy:           “Because nobody bothered to ask them.  People were allocated space based on their seniority.  It was a shambles.  There’s no way I want to see this happen again.”

You:             “What should’ve happened?

Amy:           “Well anything except that approach!”

You:             “This seems like a good opportunity for us to use this as a guide for our planning.  Amy, it would be great if we could harness your experience on this.  If you could please stay for another half an hour, you could help us to identify how we should involve staff in this process.”

Well done! You’ve successfully used a structured process to get Amy to move from a stated position to talking a bit more openly about her interests.

Unpacking the working group meeting scenario

In this case Amy’s interests were:

  • Maintaining relationships between staff;
  • Maintaining morale within the workplace;
  • Making sure staff were properly consulted.

You followed the process by:

  1. Getting Amy to state the facts (as she saw them);
  2. Checking on her reaction to this
  3. Getting her interpretation of why she thought the situation unfolded the way it did
  4. Asking for a plan of action for the future

This took just a few minutes – nothing to really upset the meeting agenda and time well spent.

By using these structured questions you were able to bring out Amy’s interests and get them on the table.  Doing this enabled other participants to better understand her situation and identify potential solutions.

PS – if you want more detailed ideas on facilitating meetings with colleagues, get in touch

PPS – the IAF is holding its Oceania conference in Canberra from May 15-17. Check the IAF website for details soon. I’ll see you there!

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Andrew Huffer

Andrew Huffer has over 25 years experience in working with organisations, businesses, managers and communities and at a state, national and international level. He designs and delivers specialist engagement processes, with a focus on facilitating open decision making processes and skill development of clients. He has delivered presentations and workshops at a number of state, national and international conferences.

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