Your Facilitation Playbook



Predictions suggest 115 million viewers will tune in for this month’s Super Bowl, the annual championship game of the National Football League.

But even when the stands are empty, championships are made at battering practices punctuated by sweat-soaked pads and dripping ice packs. Reveling in fanhood and the delights of willful blindness, few of us would dare pull back the curtain on all of the glitz and glam.

Or what if we did? The Super Bowl would be only a shiny iceberg atop a turbulent sea of preparation and pain. The same is true for our facilitated meetings. Facilitators practice every day to achieve greatness on their field of play. They also must plan in advance in order to improvise and adapt in the moment.

Lewis Carroll got it right. If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. The romance of backpacking through Europe, or the meanderings of a Sunday with nothing to do, have no place in an active facilitation. Successful convenings have clear objectives. They are a journey and a destination. You can’t show up for the flight of facilitation with your bags unpacked.

Conversely, if you know where you are going, and have prepared for the trip, you won’t be limited to a single pathway. Preparation reveals roads less traveled, enables diverse and creative thought, and the strength and flexibility of an athlete. Grab your clipboard. It’s time to ready your facilitation playbook.

Define Objectives

Your facilitation playbook is anything but a script – it is a series of preparatory plays that generate options. Let’s start by setting intentions. It’s as simple as ABC. When preparing for a meeting, speech or training session, you must first answer three basic questions:

A stands for “Affective”

How do I want people to feel? Empowered, included, motivated, connected or having a sense of productive discomfort?

B stands for “Behavioral”

What do I want them to be able to do? Develop a new skill, give more generously, register for a training or learn a new protocol?

C stands for “Cognitive”

What do I want them to understand? Is there a new conceptual framework, organizational status, or role to introduce? Is there a major decision that they need to make now?

These ABC’s are also the foundation of sports psychology. Like a football coach, the facilitator must create and modulate the ideal balance of anxiety and performance. What will spur action without prompting a retraction? What will push them to the limits of productivity, without leading them to tumble over the ledge?

Map Stakeholders

After defining objectives, map your stakeholders. Imagine a series of concentric circles on a page. In the center, you will want to list those who are scheduled to attend the meeting. Will this be an intact and longtime team? A mix of professional staff and volunteers? A newly formed board? Write them down and put them in the circle in the middle of your page.

In the next ring, list all those whom they will directly impact. Are there direct reports, donor groups or board committee members who will benefit from or be affected by the outcome of the meeting?

And in the final outer ring, list the other stakeholders. Who else is connected to your core group? A mission-critical partner, customer or service vendor? It serves us well to put on a wide-angle lens and consider everyone on the field, in the stands, back in the locker room or at home watching from the couch.

Layer your playbook with critical details. How long has each stakeholder been with your client organization? Do they have unique or unifying interests? Are you able to employ inspeak and what are the terms in play?

In outlining these details, be sure to consider who is providing you with the intelligence. The scout, line coach and team doctor have different interests and vantage points. Speak to only one and you have partial truths. Speak to them all, reflect back findings, and garner critical pre-alignment to achieve the best outcome on game day.

Wireframe the Meeting

Finally, close out your playbook with wireframing. This is the preparatory work for meeting design. Map out your time and populate the available hours with questions, exercises, group work, individual work, frontal teaching, reflection, and time for much-needed breaks.

In facilitation, all it takes is all you’ve got. The field of facilitation has developed a wide range of powerful modalities to meet various meeting objectives. We’ll examine these modalities in my Georgetown Institute for Transformational Leadership Certificate in Facilitation. Join our Fall cohort, beginning in November 2016.

When you flop down to watch the Super Bowl this week, notice how the quarterback does not throw the ball to where the receiver is. He scans the field and throws to where the receiver is going to be. The precision and elegance of this movement is the sheer result of thousands of hours of practice. Like the quarterback, the facilitator needs to be engaged in real time dynamics, while actively anticipating the direction of the room. It is only through preparation, sweat and a solid playbook, that you go home with the Championship ring.

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