Facilitation in the Days of Social Distancing

If you’ve been in one of our recent facilitation classes, you’ve probably heard us encourage you to focus on creating conversation above all else. It may have sounded something like “For the love of god, no post-it’s or dot voting”. (ok, ok, that’s just how Kat sounded).


And, with a loving “I told you so”, here we are, in the place of needing to be able to facilitate conversations that don’t readily include post-it’s or dot voting. Of course, there are some great tools out there that allow us to continue using stickies (don’t panic!) AND, without great facilitation, especially online, those tools will be less useful.


Over the coming days, we will be writing a number of blog posts focused on how to effectively implement the Facilitation Framework we teach in ACI to your remote meetings. We use the term "remote" instead of "virtual" to describe this means of meeting because we believe these can be real meetings with real results. We’ve always said that everything we teach can be done online. We are going to walk through just what that might look like. We will be writing about how to effectively plan and prepare, facilitate meaningful conversations, deal with common dysfunctions, and outline strategies for keeping participants engaged during your remote meetings.


We’ve often said that remote meetings take longer and are less effective than in-person, and as long as you remember that, there are ways to get real value from these sessions. Due to the recent shift in focus, we want to clarify that statement about remote meetings being less effective - they are less effective if they are treated the same as if they were in-person. All of our meetings are better when the facilitation skills we teach are employed, and this is no different for remote meetings. And while similar, remote meetings are different, so we need to approach them in their own unique way.


It’s not unlike going to the movie theatre versus watching a movie at home. There are certainly pros and cons to each. At the theatre, we get the (really) big-screen experience with an amazing sound system. The screen is not usually as big at home, but no one is going to complain if you are in your pyjamas! At the theatre, if you lean over to your partner to ask what is happening, you are going to get more than one dirty look. At home, you can pause the movie and say ‘Wait - what is happening here?! I thought they were on the same side!” (full disclosure: we’ve been bingeing House of Cards!).


While there are many differences, let’s not forget the things you can control to make the outcomes similar - you can have popcorn in both places, you can turn down the lights, and you can enjoy delicious Coca-Cola™ products (we are angling for some sweet endorsement bucks here).


Now imagine you go the extra mile to make it an experience - print out movie tickets for your spouse and kids, have special containers for the popcorn, and even pull out the velvet rope to enter the living room for the movie. These are the things that great facilitators bring to the “virtual” table to ensure a great meeting experience.


With that in mind, we want to focus on the things you can control in your meeting. Our first piece of advice as you jump into the deep end of facilitating online is to plan to do less in any given meeting. As challenging as it seems to be ‘doing less’, it’s important to remember that often we need to slow down to speed up. This is lean thinking at its best. Limiting WIP (work in progress) allows us to get more done, more quickly, over time through limiting context switching and increasing focus on the task. And at its most basic, more space is needed to ensure everyone is following along and contributing where needed in the meeting.


In Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman tells us that we have two ways of thinking: System 1, which is fast, intuitive, and emotional; and System 2 which is slower, more deliberate and more logical. System 1 tends to dominate System 2, and in many organizations, it is incentivized and rewarded. As facilitators, we must create the process and structure to effectively allow this more deliberate way of thinking to be reignited.


The work that we are all engaged in requires System 2 thinking. However, when we do not leave time for that to occur, we risk unconsciously falling into only System 1 thinking. The tricky part is that we often don’t realize it, and we think we are making sound decisions. In times of turmoil System 1 often has the ability to shut down our System 2 thinking altogether. As facilitators, we must create the process and structure to effectively allow this more deliberate way of thinking to be reignited. Doing less is a concrete way to offer our meeting participants the space for System 2 to occur.


In addition to promoting the kind of thinking we need to address our complex problems, this space acknowledges the already anxious and frenzied state many people are in right now. Slowing down to speed up allows us to effectively respond to the deeper challenges we are facing right now.


As you open your meetings, the space you have created by trying to do less leaves room for people to voice what is happening for them. To the extent that you leave space for this, your meetings will actually go better. More to come in our 'Opening the Session' post tomorrow.

What are you finding to be your biggest challenges in Remote Facilitation? Please connect with us and let us know how we can be useful in these challenging times.

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