Meeting participants who make procedural suggestions to the Chair, or facilitator, or to the meeting as a whole, are taking on a portion of the role of facilitator. When these suggestions are welcome, well timed, and infrequent, they can improve the flow of the meeting.
And sometimes facilitation suggestions create problems. Offering a process suggestion can be a risky move, even when the group is stuck or in chaos. Here are some tips for improving the chances of making suggestions that actually help.
- Accept that the participant view is biased
- Involvement in the discussion can obscure your view of it. This is why dispassionate facilitation by an uninvolved party is so helpful.
- Facilitation suggestions from participants can still be helpful, though, if you present them from an honest personal perspective, and if they are received as information about how the discussion looks from your perspective.
- Accept the facilitator's skill
- If someone is acting as the formal facilitator, he or she might already have thought of any process suggestion you might offer. And there might be good reasons for not adopting it, or not adopting it yet.
- A suggestion might nevertheless be welcome, if you offer it in a way that acknowledges the facilitator's skill and perspective.
- Neutrality helps
- If you've already taken a position on the matter in question, or if people believe they know what your position is, some who hold other views might interpret your facilitation suggestion as a ploy to advance your own position on the matter, even if that isn't your intention. This is especially likely if the discussion is polarized. And it doesn't matter to others whether they can divine how your suggestion advances your position — they can doubt anyway.
- Your Your facilitation suggestions
are more likely to be accepted
if you've been neutral
on the matter in questionfacilitation suggestions are more likely to be accepted if you've been neutral on the matter in question, not only in the current discussion, but in all previous related discussions.
- Alliances can erode credibility
- Even if you've taken no position on the matter in question, facilitation suggestions can be seen as attempts to seize or consolidate power within the group. For instance, if someone who's seen as an ally of yours would benefit from the suggestion, doubters might assume that the two of you have a deal going.
- Restrict your facilitation suggestions to matters that don't advance your own position or the positions of anyone regarded as allies of yours.
Timing is perhaps the most important factor that affects acceptance of facilitation suggestions. Ideas offered to save time by avoiding a process you regard as wasteful are rarely accepted. Ideas offered after significant time has been lost in a futile search for resolution are more likely to be accepted. The long way around is sometimes the shortest path. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- The Shape of the Table
- Not only was the meeting running over, but it now seemed that the entire far end of the table was having
its own meeting. Why are some meetings like this?
- How We Avoid Making Decisions
- When an important item remains on our To-Do list for a long time, it's possible that we've found ways
to avoid facing it. Some of the ways we do this are so clever that we may be unaware of them. Here's
a collection of techniques we use to avoid engaging difficult problems.
- Games for Meetings: I
- We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized
games. Here's Part I of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we can do about them.
- Dispersed Teams and Latent Communications
- When geography divides a team, conflicts can erupt along the borders. "Us" and "them"
becomes a way of seeing the world, and feelings about people at other sites can become hostile. Why
does this happen and what can we do about it?
- Polychronic Meetings
- In very dynamic contexts, with multiple issues to address, we probably cannot rely on the usual format
of single-threaded meeting with a list of agenda items to be addressed each in their turn. A more flexible,
issue-driven format might work better.
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