At the other extreme, a facilitator goes into “scribe” mode. When a facilitator is in scribe mode, it means that when he or she walks into the meeting, they sit and take notes or meeting-minutes but do not influence the dialogue. This approach makes it easier for others in the meeting to go off-topic and start discussing points not related to the objective of the meeting. Also, if someone is “checked-out” or “shut down”, there is no true facilitator in the room to make sure their voice is heard.
What Makes a Great Facilitator?
While most facilitators bring their own approaches to a session, the best facilitators allow the solution to be defined and owned by the individuals they are facilitating. She has the tact and skill to:
- Help the team clarify and align on their objective. Then, facilitate by making progress towards the objective.
- Help keep the group’s energy high so everyone contributes, is engaged and feels heard.
- Keep momentum or rhythm flowing towards the objective. (Although they can help the team change direction if the team believes it is required.) Staying on track can be tricky since the facilitator needs to balance discussion on side topics that are helpful to the objective vs. topics that derail the goal.
What About You .. Presenter? Scribe? Not sure?
Even if we believe we are doing an effective job at facilitating, we may actually be playing a Presenter or even Scribe. Here are some ways we can test our effectiveness:
- Are you directing conversations with your own agenda? Or, are you enabling the team to have its own conversations?
- Are you making sure the team stays on topic and on track to meet its objectives?
- Are you making sure everyone in the room is being heard? Is anyone’s idea’s being shut down? (This can affect the energy of the room.)
- Did you leave your opinion at the door? A good facilitator helps get to a solution, not give a solution.
- If you had not attended the meeting, would the team have accomplished the same result? (Maybe you are not being as affective as you think you are.)
When It Comes Together…
Simon Sinek recently shared the following quote: “Don’t show up to prove; Show up to improve”.
When great facilitators lead meetings, they enable a dialogue that allows the room to make a decision. They do not abuse their role to force an outcome. Instead, they help everyone do a better job and accomplish fulfilling work. The room fills with energy and momentum that can’t avoid delivering results. When meetings feel this energy, you know you are leading the room as a great facilitator.
Be sure to watch for the rest of the series in upcoming articles:
Part 2 – Check in and the Chair: Why can some facilitators effortlessly lead their team to achieve brilliant clarity and enthusiastic alignment? This article includes some basic practices great facilitators use to manage a room and deliver impressive results.
Part 3 - Commitment Based Estimation: In order for an estimate to have teeth, the team must feel ownership of the process and genuinely believe the estimates are achievable. This article includes exercises to facilitate estimates that are realistic and manageable.
Part 4 - What Great Facilitators Know about Estimating: While estimation sessions can be tricky to facilitate, a great facilitator can make their teams super confident about their estimates. This article includes some ideas on overcoming the subtle challenges that can undermine the estimation process.
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Bob Zimmerman is the Vice President & CTO at Geneca. His career in custom software development spans more than two decades and has been largely dedicated to the process of leveraging technology to drive innovation and growth.
As Geneca’s CTO, Bob Zimmerman is the driving force behind Getting PredictableS.M., the requirements definition best practices that are the foundation of Geneca’s mission to make software development predictable.