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The Value of Using a Facilitator

July 1, 2009 by Ruth Gmehlin, Partner, Trillium Teams Inc

How would you like to attend a planning session where the purpose is clear, the right people are present, and there is a systematic process in place to help the group achieve its goals in a timely and organized manner? This is what process facilitation is all about. In light of Trillium Teams achieving the certified professional facilitation (CPF) designation, we would like to share more information about the value of having a facilitator guide a strategic planning session, an off site retreat, or an important meeting.

What is Process Facilitation?

Process facilitation enables teams to think more clearly, systematically, and effectively. The process starts with analyzing the needs of the event and working with the client to determine a clear purpose and end results. This is followed by careful pre planning and designing a process to meet the set objectives. Finally, having a process facilitator, who is not a member of the team facilitate the actual meeting ensures neutrality and effective group management skills.

Process facilitation is effective when you want to:

  • Have participants solve problems, analyze issues and make decisions collectively
  • Shift ownership and commitment levels to the group
  • Deal with group dynamics
  • Facilitate an intervention that will improve meeting or team effectiveness
  • Get participants to create action plans

When to Use Process Facilitation

Organizations rely on facilitators to help guide their meetings so they can focus on successful development and implementation of strategies for growth and solutions to their business needs. Process facilitators can save time and money by using their extensive library of processes as a starting point for designing meetings. Some examples are:

  • Strategic Planning: to establish direction and gain commitment
  • Issue Resolution: to gain agreement on how to address a problem
  • Team Building: to address internal strife hampering team performance
  • Employee Engagement: to gain employee or public input on initiatives
  • Meeting Transformation: to improve meeting effectiveness
  • Board Meeting Facilitation: to extract a wider breadth of valuable expertise and knowledge
  • Conference Facilitation: a guide event and manage participant discussions
  • Focus Groups: to gain valuable feedback on a specific topic

Benefits and Value

Facilitation can be a useful tool for any company. Meetings are an expensive necessity, and in using skillful facilitators you will maximize your chances of getting what you need done. Using process facilitators is often the key difference between wasting time, eroding confidence, and forging consensus and moving ahead to implementation. Participatory process is about sharing power, tokenism is too easily confused with participation. The benefits of using process facilitators are that it:

  • Ensures the outcome of the session is owned by the group and can be implemented
  • Enables groups to channel their expertise to achieve the results they seek in the time available
  • Encourages full participation so no one dominates the agenda.Process facilitators allow a flexible, realistic, and clear approach, while recognizing and capitalizing on the differing styles and strengths of the group to get the results needed.

Facilitators do this by:

  • Ensuring clarity of task
  • Providing a process and thinking framework appropriate to that task
  • Using effective facilitation and group management skills

Case Study

Trillium Teams recently worked with The Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation (OCRI) to take them through a four month strategic planning process, which involved working with all levels of the organization, including the senior management team, the board of directors, all employees, partners and members. The catalyst for this process was the recent merger with the Ottawa Life Sciences Council (OLSC), and as a result the strategic vision and strategic plan for the organization needed to be revisited and updated to correctly position the new OCRI for future growth.

Quick Summer Team Check-Up

June 1, 2009 by Ruth Gmehlin, Partner, Trillium Teams Inc

You know that good teamwork and team building skills are critical for your effectiveness at work, whether you are a manager, an employee, the CEO or an entrepreneur, but how often do you consciously work on these? As things slow down over the summer, take the time to check in with your team and evaluate if the individual and the team needs are being met before projects get into full swing again in September.

We always start our workshops with the caveat that team building is not a one day event, instead it is an ongoing, day-to-day activity - essentially a never ending process. Like any relationship, it takes conscious attention and some work. There absolutely needs to be a team mindset set by the leader, and aligned with the culture of the work environment. Therefore, as a quick check-in and keeping team building up front and centre, take a quick poll and ask your team the following three simple questions. The answers can be a discussion topic at your next team meeting – you’d be amazed how simple and effective this little exercise can be.

Team Goals

Does everyone understand the team goals? That means that everyone knows, in detail, what the end product for this team's achievement is. This can be one specific goal for a short-term team; or a long-term broader goal for the team.

Clear Individual Roles & Responsibilities

Does everyone understand their role in achieving the team goals? People need to know what to do, and how it applies to the big picture.

Clear Team Roles & Responsibilities

Does everyone know their teammates’ roles in achieving the team goals? This is what creates the team. People should know who to ask for information and be able to look out for each other.

It's Ongoing...

The most effective team building we have seen occurs when team members’ goals are in alignment with each other, the teams’ objectives, and people are enthused and interactive on a daily basis, and working towards achieving these goals together. Getting to know one another better is accomplished best by being intensively involved with each other and building the team experience together.

In closing, the questions seem simple. The answers seem logical, but we all know that simple is not necessarily easy. These three questions are not revolutionary, but because we are all creatures of habit, it’s always good to get a little reminder. Take the time to ask your team these questions and then take the time to listen openly to others’ feedback. Open communication with your team should be your priority this summer and it will keep everyone on track, and set you up for success this fall!

Team Resolutions for the New Year

May 1, 2009 by Jill Geddes, Partner, Trillium Teams Inc

As you start to think about personal plans and goals for the New Year; have you ever considered a Resolution List for your team? This is a list of items you would like to work on as a team in order to help accomplish your goals for next year. As we have met with various managers from a wide range of organizations this year, common themes for areas of team improvement have emerged.

What follows is our compilation of the top five most requested areas for improvement or change in team dynamics that you might want to consider for your year ahead:

  1. Improve the effectiveness of team meetings
  2. Increase our team profile within the organization
  3. Improve internal team communication
  4. Increase team accountability
  5. Develop team dynamics

Improve the Effectiveness of Team Meetings

Are you having regular team meetings? How effective are these team meetings? Team meetings are absolutely essential to team effectiveness because this is the best opportunity for the team to formally come together and hear about upper management communications, share ideas, and foster team spirit. Yet so often, team meetings don’t occur on a regular basis, or they get cancelled on short notice, or the forum for discussion and exchange of the meeting is a mere token exercise in communication, and viewed as a waste of time. It’s important that meetings happen in regular and consistent intervals, and in a format as agreed upon by the team. The manager should guide the group in reviewing the team meeting on a semi-annual basis to ensure that they are indeed valuable and informative.

When reviewing team meetings, use the simple guideline of the three Ps: purpose, people and process. What is the purpose of the team meeting, who needs to be involved and what is the best process for sharing this information?

Increase our Team Profile within the Organization

What is the perception of your team within the organization? Do you feel that others have a good understanding of what the role of your team is within the bigger picture of the organization? Do others know what your team contributes, who to contact for what and some general procedures? This is a very common team challenge and could simply be a result of being too inwardly focused and occupied on the output of the team. The perception may be that there is not enough time to promote your team to other managers and employees across the organization. The reality is that this does not have to be a time consuming make work project. Take the time to sit down, as a team, to discuss your successes and ways to promote and educate others in the company about your team’s role within the organization.

Improve Communications

How well do you think you communicate as a team? Almost every team we’ve worked with over the past year has stated that they need to improve on both their internal and external communications. How does a team improve communication? First things first, it starts with internal communication. Does everyone on the team understand one anothers roles and responsibilities? As basic as this might sound, it is so often the case that team members do not know the everyday tasks, challenges and output of other roles of teammates. It can be difficult to ask someone when the assumption is that everyone already knows. Think about creating a team communication plan. Sit down as a team and discuss roles and responsibilities, team documentation, email etiquette, decision making, and team norms.

Increase Team Accountability

Do you believe that everyone on your team feels accountable for their work, for their actions, for helping to improve team dynamics? There are three basic levels of responsibility that must be achieved in order for a team to increase their accountability. First, each team member must feel a sense of personal responsibility for the work of the entire team. This feeling results from a true acceptance of team membership by the individual. Second, their must be a sense of accountability to the other team members. The manager and team members should hold one another accountable. When one person contributes a great deal, they should be recognized, and when another fails to contribute, he or she should answer for that. Last, there should be accountability to parties outside of the team. These levels of accountability allow the profile of the team to be raised and view the team as a cohesive, well functioning entity.

Develop Team Dynamics

How would you rate your team dynamics? Does the team perform well, hit performance standards and the goals they have set for themselves? Does the team take on new challenges and projects willingly? Do the individuals grow and evolve their skill set as a team? Does everyone enjoy working with each other and gain satisfaction from a team accomplishment? These factors make up team effectiveness. Taking time to develop your team dynamics is extremely important in ensuring your team is effective and operating at its optimum level. There are many ways to develop team dynamics, some suggestions are: taking the time to learn about the different work and communication styles, building a team charter, reviewing team processes, or discussing ways to have more fun as a team.

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