Leaders of high performing teams are skilled at creating work environments that facilitate group dialog. In the best teams, everyone shares equally and in short measure. This means that no one gets to dominate or withdraw from discussions. To create a space where team members uniformly share discussion time, team leaders much be skilled facilitators.
In this brief article (less than 6 min read time) I will share my 5 best tips I’ve picked along that way from 20 years of facilitating group dialog across multiple industries and organization levels.
While I can’t promise to make you a master group facilitator in the next 6 minutes, I can guarantee that if you apply a few of these tips, you will be well on your way to understanding a key component of high performing teams.
Tip #1: The team leader should be the last person to speak
As leaders we often talk too much. We spend too much time yacking and not enough time listening. I know this was true for me when I recorded a typical team meeting. I was appalled by how much, how often and how loud my voice was compared to everyone else’s. The cure for this is to wear the facilitator’s hat as a leader. Practically speaking, this means that our job while wearing the facilitator’s hat is to make it easy for the group to have good conversations. When you speak first as the leader, the weight of your opinion might dissuade other opinions from being voiced. In small teams, the easy answer is to use a round robin discussion format. In a round robin discussions everyone gets a turn. My suggestion is to start with your traditionally quiet team members with a warning before starting process. It also means that as a facilitating leader you must become comfortable with periods of silence.
Tip #2: Don’t quiet the talkers – Instead pull the quiet members into the discussion
In his classic facilitator challenges article Sam Kaner (et al) say that the novice facilitator will seek to punish or call out dominating team members. What he suggests is the real issue are the under participating majority. I would agree. You really must encourage participation from everyone using some good facilitation processes. In addition to round robin, use silent generation, where internal processors and quiet team members have an opportunity consider their own thoughts quietly before being ask to speak. You can combine this with sticky notes so that you are ensuring you are getting contribution from everyone. Another great technique is using poker chips. During important discussions give each team member three poker chips. When they have a comment or feedback they cash in their poker chips. Everybody must use all their chips and can’t use more than they have been allotted. This will ensure speaking equality and sets the expectation that everyone must contribute.
Tip #3: Don’t shutdown ideas
The death to contribution and idea exchange is criticizing. “That won’t work here.” “We tried that before.” You know what I am talking about. As leaders we often have insight, inside information and experience that our team members might lack. Don’t use your knowledge as a blunt instrument to shut down ideas prematurely. A better approach is to simply say thank you or ask the team member to expand on the idea. When a team member goes off the beaten path, kindly ask how their thoughts relate to the current discussion. If it is in fact unrelated, place it in the parking lot for future consideration. The goal should always be focused on creating rich team dialog and exploration ideas (old and new). The best solutions come from team members who feel safe expressing good, bad and fantastic concepts without reservation. The number one job of the leader is to facilitate group dialog.
Tip #4: Let team members know they’ve been heard
Listening well is the first step. The most important part is conveying to your team that they’ve been heard. It does not mean you agree. What most reasonable adults want is to know that you want and value their contributions. Paraphrasing and playing back what you heard is a key facilitator skill. Poor facilitators try to squeeze team member ideas neatly into their own preconceived notions. Good facilitators listen with fresh ears and play back what they hear accurately and concisely.
Let’s look a simple example. “Jenny, what I heard is that you don’t think our post project review meetings are working any longer. You feel we are just going through the motions. Did I hear that correctly?” Really pay attention to the response. If there is an enthusiastic yes, then you know you nailed it. If there is anything less, then ask the team member to repeat it because you missed something important. When you do this, it not only makes team members feel valued, it also prevents team members from having to over explain their point of view.
Tip #5: Adopt Yes And – Kill the Big But
We all know that “but” is a conversation killer. Kill this bad habit and don’t let it be a part of your team discussions. As the facilitating leader you must be vigilant about the big or often polite little “buts.” Make obliterating the “but” from your team dialog a fun group activity by keeping track of the frequent offenders including yourself.
“Yes And” is the power tool of improvisational comedy. These practitioners utilize “Yes And” to craft creative and often hilarious dialog on the spot. How? One actor sets the scene or introduces a character and his fellow actor accepts the initial offer. This requires that each actor focus, listen closely and only expand on what her fellow actors started. This means letting go of ego fully exploring one train of thought first.
“Yes And” requires practice and focus. By using this technique as a facilitator, you will see collaboration and the quality of ideas improve quickly, so it is worth the effort.
Now you know my best tips. Pick one or two tips to focus on over the next few months. Share what you are doing with the team. By including them on your efforts you can all hold each other accountable for improving the quality and contribution group dialog
Ron leads a Las Vegas based consulting practice where the focus is on creating happy, harmonious and high-performing teams. Additionally, he is an accomplished writer, speaker, and coach that focuses on helping highly successful female leaders discover and transition to more fulfilling work and roles. If you want to be entertained, inspired, and transformed, then join the tribe!