Meeting Facilitator – Now Performing As Director – Conductor – Coach and Choreographer

Imagine an orchestra without a conductor; the strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion all reading the music on their own could result cacophony instead of symphony.  What if The Producers had no director or choreographer; those little old ladies would be knocking each other over with their walkers.  A football team without a playbook would be little more than a sandlot game.

The same holds true for a planning meeting without a facilitator. We’ve all sat through countless meetings that went nowhere. Even with an agenda and knowing essentially what you want to get out of the meeting, it often takes a skilled facilitator to get everyone participating, keeping them civil and driving the discussion to a clear result.

The facilitator is more than just a meeting guide.  Much like the orchestra conductor, a theater director/choreographer or football coach, it is their responsibility to plan, run and bring the meeting to a clear conclusion.

It is not the facilitator’s job to solve problems or to push their own agenda (no matter how well-disguised).

It is the facilitator’s job to simply allow people in the group to work through their thoughts and feelings through the process of discussion by actively listening and creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable participating.

So what should you expect from a good facilitator?  Here are the 8 qualities and skills that a good facilitator must use to extract the best ideas and thoughts from even the most reluctant participants: 

  1. Knowledgeable researcher: Before the meeting starts, the facilitator gathers as much information as possible to ensure they understand the topic enough to guide the exploration of issues, ideas and thoughts. Often the facilitator will request to interview key participants to uncover any potential issues or information that could help to keep the discussion productive.
  2. Objective, patient listener: Generally, the less connected the facilitator is to the participants, the better; making it easier to ensure that every one is heard equally.  It is the facilitator’s job to make sure that all participants feel comfortable participating, and to encourage everyone to engage in the discussion. Perhaps the greatest skill of a facilitator is an ability to patiently listen to sometimes rambling ideas or thoughts and then capturing them clearly, without losing the emotion or intent. It can be hard to not turn one person’s thought into what you think it should be rather than what they meant it to be. 
  3. Organized choreographer: The facilitator either prepares the agenda for the meeting or works with the meeting sponsor to outline areas to be covered. Then, it is the facilitator’s job to keep everyone on track and to document the discussion as it unfolds.  Using whiteboards or flip charts, the facilitator often papers the meeting room walls with the notes, charts and ideas, regularly tracking all of it back to the original agenda.
  4. Focused conductor: Any creative discussion will naturally wander. It’s on these detours that the best ideas often emerge. While the agenda may not be followed in order, the facilitator always knows the way back. They can quickly adapt and encourage a creative discussion, ensuring that everyone gets their say. Then document the ideas or issues as they guide the discussion back on topic.
  5. Devil’s advocate: In every meeting there is at least one elephant in the room; that question or issue that no one wants to mention. This is where pre-meeting interviews and topic research help a facilitator become aware of these issues so they can safely and subtly bring them forward for discussion. They can also push back on ideas with flip side thoughts that can encourage broader, more creative discussion.
  6. Coach and mediator:  Every group has different dynamics, with standout and reluctant participants. If executives are part of the group, they can sometimes inhibit open participation. The facilitator must break down barriers with humor, insights and direct questions. If confrontations or arguments do erupt, the facilitator must quickly regain control, make sure both sides are heard, and then get everyone back on track.
  7. Face and body language reader:  It takes practice and sensitivity to notice the silent signals when people become unhappy, angry, distracted or upset. A good facilitator listens for what is not said and finds ways to engage these people in a positive and supportive way.
  8. Great closer: Tying is all together at the end and making sure there are no issues hanging, nothing left unsaid, and no one feeling left out is perhaps the most critical skill of a facilitator. Recapping the topic by running quickly across the wall charts, then outlining next steps and any assignments gets everyone on the same page to move forward.

Think about bringing in a skilled facilitator to orchestrate your next critical meeting. The results can be amazing and the process can be much more fun than you imagine when you get to sit back and participate. 

Meeting Facilitation Is More Effective If Leaders Have Been Properly Trained

Organizations are run differently, depending on how big the organization is, how long it has been around, and in which industry it operates. One of the few things these organizations do is hold meetings. A meeting might be called to share information with everyone at once or to brainstorm a new strategic direction. However, if the meeting is not run effectively then the company will have to call another meeting and get stuck in a continuous cycle of holding meetings until objectives are met. Many organizations commit to making sure a meeting is held correctly the first time by bringing in a meeting facilitation expert from outside the organization. Other companies prefer to save money by appointing someone from within the organization to lead the meeting. If that individual has never completed a facilitation training course or been properly trained in the art of leading meetings, then the only thing that a meeting will do is waste everyone’s time.

Designating an individual within the organization to be in charge of meeting facilitation will make it easier for the organization to achieve the objectives it lays out for that specific gathering. A facilitator is someone who leads a discussion by conducting research and developing a plan leading up to the meeting. This individual will interview staff members to determine what they want the meeting to accomplish, and might even write questions that can be asked to spur discussion among participants. A facilitation training course will help the individual with this research phase by suggesting ways to conduct research and obtain necessary information from organizational leaders. During this time, organizational leaders should also mention specific topics that need to be addressed or ideas that need to be debated and put to a vote. Once the facilitator has completed all preliminary research, he or she will create an agenda that he or she can refer to during the discussion.

When the meeting starts, the meeting facilitation professional will oversee the conversation to ensure that everyone is given a chance to speak. This is accomplished by making sure that each individual is treated equally, and that no ideas are dismissed without a discussion among the group. The discussion leader can also rely on techniques learned from a facilitation training course in order to bring shy participants out of their shells or to break the ice if the group seems reluctant to engage in a discussion. A facilitation training course will also teach the individual how to lead games and exercises designed to help everyone loosen up or start thinking creatively. The professional will even ensure that the meeting is productive by not dismissing everyone until a consensus has been reached. He or she will also give others the chance to ask questions, so that department heads or individual employees understand what they need to do in order to guarantee that the organization meets its goals.

Sending an individual to a facilitation training course is the best way to ensure that he or she is capable of effectively completing meeting facilitation.

How Taking Part in Qualitative Market Research Makes You See The World Differently

If you have ever taken part in a market research focus group or group discussion, it’s possible that you might have come out of the process unclear as to exactly what was achieved. When we talk to people about their experience of research participation, they nearly always report having had a fun and interesting time -but sometimes they wonder exactly what the people commissioning the research can have learned from their contributions, and how exactly they earned their cash incentive payment (typically £30 to £50 at current UK rates)

Of course sometimes the exercises used in research are very direct and obvious: If the research facilitator asks the group to compare two images and discuss what they like about each of them, which is most effective, which they prefer and why… as a research participant you will surely listen to the question and consider it, then try to respond to it as honestly and fully as possible.

That is fine, when this kind of considered response is required. But sometimes researchers need to go deeper. We relate to the brands around us in a wide range of ways, some of them consciously (‘I love Brand X, but Brand Y has gone down hill lately’), but other relationships are much more subtle. You might have sentimental feelings for brands from your childhood, or unconscious connections and memories suggested by a logo or piece of packaging. An advert or theme tune might really grate on you for reasons you have never thought about, and probably don’t really care about… but the people marketing that brand do care, and that is why they are paying for these focus groups!

So the researcher might ask you to do some things that seem a little bizarre at face value. We have seen participants asked to close their eyes and imagine what a brand of detergent would be like if it were a country – what kind of climate it might have, what governance, what the national dish might be. Sometimes people have said afterwards that they felt they gave a silly answer, because they had no idea what they were supposed to say… but that ‘top of head’ response can often tell the market researchers a great deal about the impressions their products are making, especially when they compare the responses from a range of different research participants.

Other researchers might get you to draw a picture of how an event made you feel, or imagine two different makes of car were people you met at a party – and then think about how they might introduce themselves and what they’d be wearing, and so on.

It’s all about getting you to think about the familiar in new and different ways, and it’s fascinating to observe or be a part of. We all make hundreds of tiny decisions every day, to buy that kind of shampoo or visit that website over there… each of our individual decisions might seem inconsequential, but when we’re talking about brands used all over the world these decisions scale up staggeringly. Market Researchers seeking to understand and learn from this behaviour have evolved intriguing tools to explore how our minds make these decisions, and being part of this is great fun.

Research-Led Teaching: A Personal Perspective

The fact that candidates for jobs in the United Kingdom higher education sector (UKHEs) are continually asked to make presentations on topics such as ‘What are your views on, and experience of, research-led teaching in education?’, ‘How will your research contribute to the delivery of the University’s Learning and Teaching strategy?’ and ‘Describe how your research will contribute, over the next 3-5 years, to the international teaching profile of this University’, indicates the importance and perennial need to link teaching and research in the UKHEs. Additionally, those employed are encouraged to make their teaching ‘more research-led’. From this perennial desire locally, emerges coined phrases such as ‘research-led’, ‘research informed’ or ‘research enhanced’ teaching, which have now become established jargons in the sector.

One University in its learning and teaching policy defines research-led teaching as that which introduces students to the latest findings in their subjects and develops students’ powers of critical insight and intellectual synthesis. This idea is supported by writers such as Tushman & O’Reilly (2007), Anthony & Austin (2008,) Prichard (2000), and Paul & Rubin (1984) who see the role of research and its connection with teaching as enabling knowledge growth and improving practice and/or teaching.

Embedded in this definition is a reason for engaging in research-led teaching that is, to keep students informed of current developments in their chosen field and to aid the development of a cognitive skill. Another reason for engaging in research-led teaching in education and related careers, include the fact that it enables students to effectively function in many educational and related roles such as (Teaching, Educational Management or Administration in schools, Youth work, Community and Charity work, or the caring professions generally) which require:

  • the skill of critical analysis
  • critically evaluating knowledge
  • making rational judgment in light of good evidence
  • gathering and reflecting on the evidence
  • being creative in light of rapid change and uncertainty (Brew 2010 and Brew, & Boud 1995).

So what exactly constitutes research-led teaching?

To answer this question I pull on personal experience ‘in the field’. My experience in this area involves:

  1. Sharing research with students. I do this in four ways:

One, I use personal research reports as teaching material during classes to enrich both postgraduate and undergraduate students’ learning. For example, my 2001 research on the church school relationship in the Cayman Islands resulted in the publication of a book with a similar title. This book is required reading for a module I teach. During specific sections of the module, the work is discussed and students are encouraged to critically think about, evaluate and challenge the claims made.

Two, during teaching, I utilise personal experiences and anecdotes/stories related to my own research to convey points of interest to students. For example, I might tell of interviewing a research participant and her responses, which betrayed her true belief about an educational issue.

Three, in addition to using personal research publications and personal stories during teaching, there is a list of required and recommended readings provided for all modules I teach. It is my responsibility to research the local archive, libraries, journals, and to order text books for all these modules. These readings are discussed during lessons and used to guide and broaden students’ thinking about the subject being studied and to actively engage them in critical examination of literary sources.

Four, I utilised the knowledge gained and data from own research on reflective teaching to construct face-to-face, online and hybrid modules for undergraduate teacher education students. Examples of my research used are:

  • Reflective Teaching and… (Paperback and Kindle Edition)
  • Reflective teaching: Properties, Tool, Benefits and Support (Paperback)
  • Reflection and Reflective Teaching, A Case study of Four Seasoned Teachers in the Cayman Islands (Paperback).
  • Reflective Teaching as Self-Directed Professional Development: building Practical or work-related knowledge.
  • The Role of Reflection in the Differentiated Instructional Process.
  • Valli’s Typology of Reflection and the analysis of pre-service teachers’ reflective journals.
  • A Reflective Approach to Teaching Practicum Debriefing.

  1. Engaging students in enquiry based learning

Firstly, this involves encouraging students to engage in research by making it a required element of modules I develop and teach. By engaging in a small research project, they develop an understanding of the research process; examine the literature; pass judgement about what counts as evidence, and reflect on the evidence (Brew 2010 and Brew, & Boud 1995).

Secondly, I involve students in personal research. For example, undergraduates were involved in searching the literature which contributed to the production of the following piece: Reflective Teaching, Critical Literacy and the Teacher’s Tasks in the Critical Literacy Classroom (A Confirmatory Investigation).

Thirdly, students are required to produce a final thesis as a course requirement in a department of Education for which I was in charge. This further facilitated their induction in to research, for their involvement in the actual production of a high quality research thesis results in a greater appreciation for, and involvement in the research process.

  1. Researching and Reflecting on own Teaching (Scholarship of Learning and Teaching.

In this approach I am involved in researching and reflecting on my own teaching and the students’ learning via action research or applied research, which involves identifying a learning/teaching problem, researching the problem, applying the solution to my teaching and publishing the results. Current examples of this occurrence are:

  • Encouraging Secondary Students’ Deep Reflection-on-learning: a case for a Reflective Approach to Student Learning Evaluation.
  • Reflective Teaching and Disruptive Behaviour in Regular High School Classrooms in London, England.
  • Teaching Tasks and the composition of a ‘piece’ using music technology in the classroom: Implications for the education and training of teachers.

I reflect on or critically think about my own teaching. Via this process, I reflect on what steps need to be taken to improve the learning and teaching process, using a variety of evaluation methods (i.e., reflective journals, students’ evaluation form, and personal and peer observation) and then act on them in practical ways.

Here are a few strategies for encouraging and enabling research-led teaching

The development of a culture of research is one way of encouraging and enabling research-led teaching in a HEi. This can be achieved by developing and facilitating faculty’s professional development, which enables and encourages them to engage in the ‘scholarship of teaching’. This may include instituting awards /incentives that recognize outstanding teaching, based on researching and/or studying ones’ teaching; developing policy and criteria for this recognition scheme; facilitating in-house training in the area of the scholarship of teaching, and organizing a special lecture series by noted scholars to address the idea of the scholarship of teaching.

Developing or facilitating faculty’s engagement in research and publications is another way to encourage and enable research-led teaching in a HEi. Strategies to encourage this may include: building time in the teaching schedule for faculty to engage in research; providing funding for faculty attendance and participation in local and overseas conferences; developing policies to regulate faculty attendance and participation in local and overseas conferences; providing internal forums for faculty to showcase their research, for example, a lunch hour series that is broadly advertised, where faculty can talk about and present their research ideas for discussion, and present research that they have completed; encouraging internal review of publications that faculty are planning to submit to journals or conferences, and encouraging students’ research by requiring (where appropriate) the completion of a thesis or portfolio.

Other ways to encourage and enable research-led teaching in a HEi is to encourage consultancy work by faculty by showcasing to the local university and wider community their credentials, experiences and achievements; hosting and organizing annual or biannual conferences at the University to address issues relevant to education; and using the University’s website to display faculty research and scholarship achievements.

References

Anthony, E. K & Austin M.J. (2008). The Role of an Intermediary Organization in Promoting Research in Schools of Social Work: the Case of the Bay Area Social Services Consortium. Social Work Research 32(4) 287-294

Brew, A. (2010). Imperatives and Challenges in Integrating Teaching and Research. Higher Education Research & Development 29, 139-150.

Brew, A, & Boud, D. (1995). Teaching and research; establishing the vital link with learning. Higher Education, 29, 261-273

Paul, C.W and Rubin, P.H. (1984) Teaching and Research: The Human Capital

Paradigm. Journal of Economics Education 15(2), 142-147

Prichard, R. (2000) Future Directions for Research in Caribbean Higher Education Institutions. Chapter 11 in Higher Education in the Caribbean: Past, Present & Future Directions. 251-265, ISBN 9789766400798

Tushman, M & O’Reilly III, C. (2007). Research and Relevance: Implications of pasteur’s quadrant for doctoral programs and faculty development. Academy of Management Journal 50(4), 769-774