Ep 45: Navigating and Managing Your Business Ecosystem: Mastering Facilitation to Realize Effective Outcomes - with Michael Wilkinson

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This episode is presented in partnership with the Association of Strategic Planning. For more information, visit https://www.strategyassociation.org/

In today’s interconnected business ecosystem, collaboration and teamwork are critical to moving initiatives and activities forward. To accomplish these objectives and tasks, we often have to schedule and run various meetings to facilitate progress.

Yet there is growing frustration with the sheer number of meeting commitments and then the lack of productivity or clear next steps coming out of those discussions. So what really makes a good meeting that positively affects business outcomes?

Michael Wilkinson has spent his career mastering the methodologies and systems behind successful facilitation. He is the founder and managing director of Leadership Strategies -- The #1 Facilitation Training Company in the US, and the accomplished author of several books on facilitation. Michael preaches the tenets of process and preparation that enable leaders to boost collaboration, productivity and morale among their teams.

Michael is also teaching a three-hour masterclass at the 2019 Association for Strategic Planning’s Annual Conference that’s being held on May 15th in Denver.  

In this episode, he shares how to avoid the common myths and misconceptions companies have around running effective meetings. Because, at the end of the day, facilitation isn’t just about running better sessions. It’s about eliminating dysfunction and maximizing efficiency to drive your business and its ecosystem forward.

Creating the Facilitation Ministry

Michael’s journey began on the outskirts of Washington D.C., where he grew up without the privileges and opportunities of many others at the time. “There's an old joke that we're so poor, the roaches eat up all our food. In my family, it was we were so poor, we did not have roaches. And so, it was just a different world.”

His life got an upgrade when his family moved to a new neighborhood and he took advantage of it. He took on honest work as a paperboy for the Washington Post. They sponsored interviews for private schools of which he interviewed and ultimately got accepted to an elite prep school in New England. It was a different world for him. He says, “I was the only black face.” So, he attributes Affirmative Action to the reason why he was able to have opportunities that wouldn’t have otherwise materialized.

After graduating from an Ivy League university, Michael decided his calling wasn’t to make a ton of money. His ambitions were to help people. So when was accepted into Harvard with the intention of getting an MBA and pursuing government service, he turned it down. He had a higher calling and, after going on his 6-month faith walk, he learned his purpose was to serve.

So today, he sees facilitation as his ministry, his way of serving people and helping them achieve their ambitions. “We train thousands of people every year in facilitation skills because we know it makes a huge difference not only in people's professional lives but in their personal lives...Knowing how to facilitate groups to solutions.”



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Applying a Systems Mindset to Create Facilitation Solutions

Michael’s early career was in tech, where he worked as a data processing professional in systems. Everything he did had a methodology to it, a linear process that, when followed properly, lead to predictable and manageable outcomes.

When he made the shift to facilitation, he applied the same structure and began to teach it. His techniques are rooted in set principles that can be applied to every meeting: 10 fundamental principles, the 5Ps of Preparation, the 3Hs of Product, the three reasons why people agree and how to address them. He jokes that one industry peer called his company the McDonaldization of facilitation because he was trying to make facilitation accessible for all. But Michael takes it as a compliment. He agrees -- if everyone can understand the parts that go into running effective meetings and fostering better collaboration, then businesses will see higher productivity and better outcomes across the board.

The Secrets of Facilitation

Getting buy-in so that you can make decisions faster is a critical part of why facilitation helps move business forward. Better meetings mean better outcomes, and that’s beneficial to everyone involved. But why do so many people complain that their meetings are unproductive? What are leaders doing wrong that’s causing this dysfunction?

Not having a clear purpose or product are some core drivers of unproductive meetings.

So in order to have that masterful start and end to a meeting, it requires spending a dedicated amount of time in preparation mode. Whether it's identifying the participants, understanding their concerns and even anticipating the group dynamics to begin with - these are all important to be aware of to effectively steer the conversation and minimize dysfunction. And then you must have a defined purpose and outcome, or “product”, you want to get out of the meeting.

And then it’s about handling disagreements, naysayers, and inactive participants. Handling meeting dysfunction is about seeing individual players as a part of the larger system, your business ecosystem and connecting all the pieces so that they align and collectively work together to accomplish the greater goal. And that takes a lot of emotional intelligence -- which has to be learned through experience.

Key Takeaways:

A facilitated session is a highly structured meeting in which the meeting leader or the facilitator guides the group through a series of predefined steps to arrive at a result that is created, understood, and accepted by all the participants.

  1. Many people would agree that knowing the meeting process (agenda), participants, and problems in advance are most important. But what many forget is that the very first priority in meeting prep is establishing the purpose of the meeting and what you want to walk away with.

  2. There are 5Ps of meeting preparation. Before any meeting, you need to answer:

    1. “Purpose” - Why are we holding this session?

    2. “Product” - What do we want to have when we are done?

    3. “Participants” - Who are the participants and what are their perspectives?

    4. “Probable Issues” - What are the probable issues that will need to be addressed?

    5. And then “Process” - How will we go about achieving the purpose, given the product desired, the participants and the probable issues we will face?

    6. Understanding the product, or what you want to create with the meeting, can be broken down into 3Hs:

      1. Hands - What do you want people to walk away in their hands when that meeting is over?

      2. Head - What do you want them to know that they didn't know before the meeting started?

      3. Heart - What do you want them to believe that they didn't necessarily believe before the meeting started?

      4. Remember that creative abrasion is good, as successful collaboration is simply a series of effective disagreements. But if you don't know how to deal with disagreement, you will never be effective.

      5. Minimizing dysfunction in a meeting and driving towards that solution comes down to recognizing the three reasons why people disagree:

        1. A mismatch in or misunderstanding of information -- Solved by asking questions until everyone has the same information. (Level 1 disagreement)

        2. Opposing values -- Takes value identification and creating solutions that combine everyone’s values. (Level 2 disagreement)

        3. Personality differences, experiences or other outside factors not relevant to the issue that cause tension -- this has to be solved at a higher level. (Level 3 disagreement)

        4. You can’t solve a level 3 disagreement with a level 1 solution, so it’s important to identify where the disagreement falls in the hierarchy.

        5. Collaboration comes down to minimizing time spent in advocacy mode (pushing your point) and increasing time in inquiry mode (actively listening). Be a more proactive listener in order to mitigate many of the level one disagreements that arise most often.

        6. If your voice is dominating the meeting, that's a sign that the group is not moving beyond you, and collaboration isn’t happening. So, apply the “three before me” principle: three people have to speak before you speak. And once you speak, there has to be another “three before me.”

        7. To engage non-participants don’t call on them. Rather take the round-robin approach and call on the two people to the left or right. Then the nonparticipant will know the next in the sequence is their turn and they’re not being singled out.

        8. The main issue with naysayers is they tend to focus on the problem. Take that energy and refocus it on the solution. Say they are right and ask how they would achieve the solution.

        9. When we have someone exhibit dysfunctional behavior, there are four steps.

          1. Approach them privately or generally

          2. Empathize with the symptom

          3. Address the root cause

          4. Get agreement on a solution

          5. Rule out icebreakers unless they are incredibly relevant to solving the problem at hand. Every minute of the meeting should be contributing to the purpose or the product of the meeting.

          6. Gear your meeting toward the person who's most influential in the room. Ex. if you have someone who's a high driver, give them the bullet points first. But then have a detailed appended for the people who need those details.

          7. In any meeting, you have to have something for everybody. So understand the different styles, what they need, so you're designing meetings that aren't just for you.

          8. For meeting leaders: write first, discuss second. Write what they said, not what you heard and then get them to correct it. Because they only recognize it's their stuff, not your stuff.

          9. To lead a masterful meeting, it’s better to have someone who knows the topic better than someone with strong facilitation skills. But the ideal is to have someone with both.

The Association for Strategic Planning

In today’s increasingly complex society, more and more organizations are engaging in alliances, partnerships, joint ventures and other forms of active collaboration. They are being pushed to consider the strategic direction of their organizations in the context of larger business and community ecosystems that include everything from big corporations, startups, customers, and competitors, to universities, government agencies and non-profit entities. Multi-stakeholder innovations are needed to create healthy platforms for future growth and that is why the Association for Strategic Planning is focusing its 2019 annual international conference on the theme:  Strategy and Your Business Ecosystem.

The conference is being held in Denver, May 15-17. Michael Wilkinson will be presenting a three-hour Master Class on The Secrets of Facilitation at the conference. Visit strategyassociation.org for details and to register.

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