How skilled facilitation drives successful teams

June 3, 2024
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Innovation InsightsTech Insights
Andrii Ianovych
How skilled facilitation drives successful teams

How often have you attended meetings where these common patterns begin to emerge?:

  • Time wasting: There is a lot of talking, meeting participants arrive unprepared, and meetings drag on longer than they should
  • Lack of focus: Minimal attention to the meeting topic, people switching to unrelated topics
  • Little participation: Most people don’t contribute, sit out, or remain silent
  • Too many egos: Showdown between participants
  • No progress: Zero substantial decisions are made

It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? After these types of work meetings and discussions, people often feel dissatisfied and regret the wasted time. The result? The team’s motivation drops.

Thankfully, there’s a solution – facilitation skills offer an antidote to these challenges and ensure a team consistently lives up to its potential.

The art of facilitation in the workplace

Facilitation is much more than holding meetings; it is a way to help people make progress, achieve goals, remove obstacles, and generally do great things.

Facilitation uses many different techniques and tools to gather data, engage each participant, visualise the issues being discussed, structure information and bring discussions to a constructive conclusion. As a result, it is a powerful tool for preventing conflict situations and increasing team motivation and engagement when making complex decisions in a fast-paced environment.

The main feature of the professional organisation of group work in a meeting is the position of the facilitator, who is neutral and does not assume the role of a decision-maker. Still, the facilitator actively helps the participants to do it themselves.

Benefits of team facilitation

When managers and team members take the time to learn more about facilitation skills and how to apply them in the work environment, the benefits are great.

Here are some of the major ones:

Improves team effectiveness

A manager, scrum master, product owner, or just a team member with facilitation skills can help the entire team get more done. When everyone comes together to discuss challenges or do some planning, the facilitator can encourage team members to achieve their goals and reach common goals in a shorter time.

Elevates group dynamics

Effective team collaboration helps create a stronger work group. When people see that their input has impacted the group’s decision, they feel more invested in the strategy due to a sense of ownership. This helps to improve the performance of the team as a whole.

Drives efficient problem-solving

As more team members participate in group discussions, there will be a greater exchange of ideas in the mix. Facilitators encourage team members to express their opinions and feel safe to voice their point of view which might conflict with the rest of the team. In this way, the group will be exposed to new perspectives which will enable them to be more prepared for possible problems.

Great! But what exactly to do now?

Tools for effective group facilitation

The key to effective group facilitation lies with these basic tools:

  • Meeting goal: This must be articulated specifically as an outcome. It helps maintain focus and brings the discussion back to the original goal.
  • Timing: Creates focus and safety, and limits the time for speaking or activity during the workshop.
  • Rules: These must be simple, clear, and based on the wishes of the group, preferably visualised.
  • Action plan: Designed to answer questions regarding who does what and when.
  • Agendas: These must be created in advance or at the beginning of the meeting, allowing focus to be maintained. They help us gain an understanding of where we are positioned and where we need to be.
  • Visualisations: Especially in online meetings, visual aids help maintain focus on what is being discussed, add perspective, change the angle of view, and help the flow of the meeting.

The dynamics of a group mindset

I have learned that group interactions can be uncomfortable, especially with scrum teams working on complex problems. A diverse group of people can offer a wider range of creativity and innovation, but it can also lead to misunderstandings and clashes.

I have experienced that the journey from exploring a group’s different perspectives and ideas (divergent thinking) to a shared understanding and conclusion (convergent thinking) can be a rollercoaster of confusion, frustration, and misalignment. This is not because the teams I have worked in are dysfunctional, but because it is a natural part of group dynamics.

Sam Kaner’s book, Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, offers a model that visually represents the process of collaborative decision-making within groups.

These zones illustrate the dynamic nature of group decision-making, emphasising the importance of navigating through challenges and conflicts to reach a shared understanding and agreement.

Let me break them down:

Divergent Zone

This zone represents the stage where group members explore diverse perspectives, ideas, and possibilities. It’s characterised by brainstorming, creativity, and open-ended discussion.

During this phase, participants generate a wide range of options without immediately focusing on narrowing down or selecting specific solutions. The emphasis is on expanding possibilities and considering various viewpoints.

Groan Zone

The groan zone is where the group encounters challenges, conflicts, and frustrations as they attempt to move from divergent thinking to convergent thinking. This phase can be marked by confusion, disagreements, and uncertainty as the group grapples with the complexities of the problem and the multitude of ideas generated.

It’s called the groan zone because it can be uncomfortable and difficult for participants, but it’s also a critical stage where breakthroughs and insights can occur through perseverance and effective communication.

Convergent Zone

The convergent zone is where the group creates and consolidates their ideas to arrive at a decision or solution. It involves narrowing down the options generated during the divergent phase, evaluating them against predetermined criteria, and reaching a consensus on the best course of action.

In this phase, the focus shifts from exploration to decision-making and action planning. The convergent zone marks the culmination of the decision-making process, where the group aligns their efforts and commits to implementing the chosen solution.

Unleashing your team’s potential

To understand which techniques to use at any given stage and to develop your skills as a facilitator, take a look at Liberating Structures.

Liberating Structures are a collection of facilitation techniques designed to unleash the creative potential of groups and organisations. It aims to distribute control among participants, encourage active participation, and foster inclusive decision-making processes.

In the end, I would like to advise you to just be brave. Facilitation is a skill so only practice will help you get better and improve. Just try, and experiment and it will help you to do great things!

Andrii Ianovych

Andrii is a seasoned Scrum Master skilled in leading development teams to deliver work efficiently and on time. As an avid runner, he maintains his focus and leadership through physical and mental fitness.

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