Last time, I mentioned the old saying, “If you want to kill an idea, send it to a committee.” This reflects the struggles committees often experience trying to accomplish a task. Members may want to be successful in their efforts, but the team still flounders until members give up or the organization disbands the group. Some teams may find a solution, but it disappears when it is never implemented. The resulting frustration may keep members from ever wanting to be on a committee again.
Have you ever been part of teams like these? The problems often result from team members not having a clear idea about how to move the team forward. The use of a facilitator can help avoid these situations. They can the team make progress by using some basic techniques.
A facilitator is a neutral person (or people) whose role is to help the committee. An experienced facilitator will bring a variety of tools and ideas to help the group.
Committees will sometimes decide to have one of the members be the facilitator. They believe since the person is already on the team, they should be able to guide the process. No matter how well intentioned the team and facilitator may be, this often contributes to failure.
The most important characteristic of a facilitator is their neutrality. They will need to interact with all individuals and groups and build their trust as they work together. The moment they lose the perception of neutrality, their effectiveness is lost. Everything the facilitator does will be viewed with suspicion.
This is a key reason way attempting to facilitate your own team is difficult. No matter what the committee is doing, members have a stake in the outcome. Even if the facilitator tries hard to maintain neutrality, anything they say may be misinterpreted into favoring a solution, particularly by those on the other side. These perceptions can cloud the facilitator’s efforts on other issues. This is particularly the case when working with a labor-management committee.
Although it may seem like having a facilitator who is knowledgeable about the issue being considered, it can actually be detrimental. When the facilitator is a member of the committee, their opportunity to participate in the discussion and decision making is limited. Presumably, the person is on the committee because of their involvement with the problem or expertise on the issue. As a facilitator, the opportunity for the committee to benefit from the facilitator’s knowledge will be limited, which is unfair to the constituents of the individual.
Facilitators do not need to be content experts. They must be process experts. I regularly facilitate teams where my knowledge about the details of the issue is limited to what I may have learned by listening to the discussion. This lack of knowledge is not a problem (unlike on other occasions for me), because as a facilitator, I am there to help the team focus on its mission, utilize effective problem solving techniques, teach and utilize tools to help them with the process, and take other steps to help the committee improve their process. By actively listening to the discussion, I am still able to ask questions and offer suggestions to help the team make progress.
Although there may be a cost involved in using a facilitator, it can be money well spent. The improved process and outcomes can pay dividends to the organization. To get help facilitating in your organization, contact CALMC.