The fine art of facilitation for leaders

In 2004 I shared with my amazing wife that I had quit my job and decided to become a ‘Motivational Speaker’. She was not overly impressed, to say the least. Especially for the first few years, when speaking work was somewhat hard to come by. Mostly because I wasn’t very good at it. I hadn’t really learnt how to engage an audience. Several years later (and thank you Marc McLaren) an early mentor of mine shared that “if you are going to get great at public speaking, the thing you need to learn is how to talk with an audience, not at an audience”. Some of the best advice I have ever received. 

But what does that mean, and how does it apply to leadership?  

Engaging your team, really engaging them, is one of the key leadership skills of 2022, in my humble opinion. Aka workshop facilitation (or in essence – good meeting management).  

FYI, how to masterfully facilitate a workshop or meeting is all summed up in our one-month public speaking course.

Since the COVID pandemic started, we have moved online. We have moved work to home. We are still working through the great resignation. Which was quoted by several sources (MIT Sloan as an example) as being caused by ‘Toxic Workplace Cultures’. Which is code for team members not being heard, and hence not feeling valued. 

The biggest query that I have gotten from our leadership coaching clients is ‘our team has stopped making decisions, how can I help them be decisive and act?’ The theory was that the ‘water cooler’ conversations were no longer happening, and team members have had no one to bounce ideas off. Makes sense. So, how do we, as leaders, be a sounding board, or give team members the ability to share ideas and opinions in either one-on-one or group discussions?  

By facilitating great workshops and great meetings. By talking with team members, not at them. By giving team members a voice – a real voice (online or in person). 

Leaders, you don’t need all the answers, you need to have all the questions. 

Leaders still tell me that they feel like they need to have all the answers.  

And how is that humanly possible, is my first thought… which I sometimes verbalise (if I haven’t got my filter on, which is rare, but it happens…). When leaders understand that all sources of information and knowledge are embedded in the collective experience of team members, and that it is a simple (sometimes not easy) process of asking for help, the answers will present themselves. Especially in areas like: 

  • Goal Setting
  • Idea Generation
  • Problem Solving

Tip: Never undervalue the knowledge in your team, and how, the right engagement and facilitation (workshop or meeting), will give team members the forum to share information, and answer questions that you will have, as the team leader. When you ask the right questions. 

Back to learning how to be a better public speaker.  

Great public speakers are generally great facilitators. To talk with an audience, is simply to be able to ‘curate the conversation’. To be able to thoughtfully choose great questions that will keep the dialogue in motion. Same with leadership. Keeping dialogue in motion is the fine art of facilitation, and the even more fine art of thinking fast and talking slow (yes, it is a learnt skill). 

Leaders, the more you listen to ideas, the more ideas you will get. 

Listening to your team is key, especially when you are facilitating a workshop with a purpose. For those leaders who are not yet adept at the fine art of facilitation, start with listening, and writing. Yes, writing. Writing things down and following up on ideas and opportunities. You might not agree with an idea or opinion, but it gives value to your team member’s input if you take the time to acknowledge them. Then you can close the loop on the idea (during the workshop or meeting) or subsequently, on why or why not it will be implemented. 

The challenge for some leaders is that they get too many ideas and opinions. I get that, too. And the challenge here is to prioritise and work through what is achievable, and what is biggest bang for buck. And having the group conversational skills to articulate all of that. 

Tip: Facilitation can be an exercise in creating conscious control, especially when you don’t agree with ideas, or when the conversation is getting animated. Listen, listen, and listen some more. To what is really being said and listen for any underlying issues that might be showing up. And you might even have to take some of that offline. 

Leaders, don’t thank me now – here is the process and a great resource. 

Part of the fine art of facilitation is following a process. The clearer the process, the better the outcome. With most things in life, really. Not just workshop facilitation… so here is the process for great facilitating: 

  • Purpose – clearly define it, and share it prior to the workshop or meeting 
  • Process – how will the workshop be run, what resources will be used (preparation) 
  • People – who needs to be at the workshop or meeting 
  • Performance – the fine art of facilitation, follow the above steps of having great questions, curating conversation, and listening to and documenting what is said 
  • Polish – the close out process, to add value to the time that your team has committed to the process 

Tip: The best leaders that I have encountered are engaging. They are conversation specialists, and they can curate a chat with purpose and with ease. And you might notice that the skills I mention above can be utilised in one-on-one conversations just as much as they can be utilised in a group scenario.  

This was game changing for me when I learnt it! And just being told that facilitation matters didn’t mean that I could do it well, right off the bat. It takes work, it takes practice, and like most things in life, what is worth having doesn’t come easy. 

And please click the image below if you’d like to chat about what leadership means to you.

If you would like to learn more about Anton or The Guinea Group, please click hereto book into Anton’s calendar, to:

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About Anton

Anton has dedicated his working life to helping leaders to upgrade their mindset, upskill their leadership, and uplift their teams! With a focus on helps leaders to better lead under pressure. Anton is an entrepreneur, speaker, consultant, bestselling author and founder of The Guinea Group. Over the past 19 years, Anton has worked with over 175+ global organisations, he has inspired workplace leadership, safety, and cultural change. He’s achieved this by combining his corporate expertise, education (Bachelor of HR and Psychology), and infectious energy levels.
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