Before a dispute or conflict gets out of control
Facilitation a process that makes life easier. Using a third party to neutralise and help parties achieve collective outcomes.
You can use the process of facilitation at any stage. For example facilitation can be used in pre-conflict situations. This is not to say conflicts haven’t already erupted or there are no existing underlying tensions. Call in a facilitator before any conflict escalates and becomes entrenched so that parties can work together in a collaborative way to achieve common objectives.
Facilitation can also be used during conflict as a tool or mechanism to manage conflicts. Of course the facilitation process can continue after matters have resolved to ensure new habits take hold.
As a facilitator I would oversee the progress of meetings and attempt to alleviate as much tension as possible, get personal agenda’s off the table and focus on group work. I recently worked with a group where initial discussions with two sets of lawyers and one accountant had recommended to wind up a company and have assets sold to settle their dispute. Working through a facilitated process we were able to have the parties agree to certain steps to resolve issues.
One essential element of facilitation is the involvement of all parties internal to the entity. With this in mind a facilitated outcome could be as simple as one session at board level or a more complex set of scheduled meetings over an extended period of time. It is important to note a facilitator does not become part of the decision making entity or process. The agenda must be owned by the parties.
Similarly, rules of conduct must be set and agreed to by the parties. The facilitator can be engaged to run meetings, or simply keep a record of the meetings or act as a watchdog to make sure the group does not stray from the agreed agenda and rules of conduct. The facilitator creates an environment where internal stakeholders continue to manage and make decisions about their affairs.
There is a lot of work which goes into facilitation up front; meetings, including where to meet, how often, agendas to be agreed, surveys and establishing rules of conduct, who will look after what (from meeting notices, survey preparation, mail-outs, typing of minutes, etc.), how participation is to be determined, who will represent different stakeholder groups, decision-making protocols, deadlines and resources for work to be done.
Then there is the conduct of the meetings themselves. Facilitation is to be structured with the participants in mind and an environment created where everyone feels included and encouraged to participate. In this regard, rules of conduct must be observed.
Group record keeping is another important function of the facilitator. This can take various forms, with agreed outcomes or minutes being the base line record keeping tool. The best facilitated meetings demonstrate group interaction as the meeting progresses.
Another important task (and skill) is managing and maintaining the group. Managing tensions and ‘feelings’, following the rules and ensuring the agenda is playing out. Understanding body language; are people paying attention, is a break needed, are there distractions from within or outside the group (messaging and emails for example) and are they hearing what is being said.
Summarising, reopening and agreeing at appropriate times is also a necessity.
Facilitation is a great practical tool for conflict management. I’ve seen a lot of groups survive tensions and grow into self-managed groups after an extended period of time using facilitators.
For the trusted adviser it translates to client retention and growth.