It’s not the meeting’s fault that it sucked!

We’ve all been in meetings or other sessions which have sucked all our energy, haven’t we? I know I have. Sessions where people have been on their laptops or checking email on their phones and not paying attention to the proceedings. What about when 1 or 2 people dominate?

We’ve also experienced meetings where everyone is in love with the shape of the problem; when the time allotted for the session is over and no decisions have been made. So they decide to have another session to make some decisions… or they rush through some meaningless actions causing the meeting to run over, making people late for their next session. And let’s not forget the group of people, impatiently waiting outside the room to start their meeting…?

Contrary to this, a meeting or a session that is skillfully facilitated:

  • Engages everyone in the room;
  • Lets all the voices be heard;
  • Remains focussed on its purpose; and
  • Unlocks wisdom and creativity beyond your expectations.

The contrast between the two is huge. We leave the second one with a sense of achievement; feeling our time has been well spent, something worthwhile has been achieved, and we maybe even feel energized.


What is it that makes the difference?

It starts with having some facilitation tools & techniques (the science), however that only takes one so far. The magic really happens when we have developed the art of facilitation, and when we blend that with the science.

When this magical combination happens, these are some of the things that we will begin to notice:

  • Everyone quickly shifts into a state of ‘being present’;
  • Participants contribute from their strengths and their hearts;
  • Ideas are generated and solutions may be found;
  • Constructive disagreement takes place;
  • Clear decisions can be reached with buy in from everyone;
  • Real outcomes are achieved faster;
  • Trust, collaboration and accountability grows; and
  • New effective behavior results and continues beyond the session.

To access this magic, we need to look inside ourselves. Only then can we develop our art.

Imagine you have had a tough sprint and you now need to facilitate the retrospective. You know it is not going to be easy. Take the time to prepare for the upcoming session by following this 4-step process:

  1. Take responsibility for yourself. Many times we go into sessions when we are feeling defensive. Defensiveness is the quickest way to a failed session. You begin to take responsibility for yourself by acknowledging that you are feeling defensive. It’s that easy.
  2. Identify the triggers that are making you lose your neutrality. Losing your neutrality might take you into ‘push’ mode and you risk making the session about you, when it should be about the group. Spend some time reflecting on these, draw (yes, draw!) each one on a separate sticky note. Now put them all in a box and lock them in your desk drawer…you can collect them later.
  3. Now you are ready to begin to understand the others who are going to be in the room. If you are feeling defensive, what might the others be feeling? Reflect on this using empirical evidence of what happened in the sprint and the interactions between the team. Put yourself in your team’s shoes and try to see how they see the sprint, what it means to them, and what they want for the next sprint.
  4. Now you can plan your retrospective… and you already know how to do this.

All of this is done before the session. A wise man once told me, “For every hour of the session, you have to spend 2 to 3 hours preparing. So if your session is 2-hours, you need to spend 4-hours preparing.”