Who Should Lead A Facilitated Workshop?



I'm often asked:


“Shoudn’t our CEO lead the strategy session?”


Often the leader of a division or team, or even a CEO, will feel it is their job to facilitate teams and develop strategy.


While sometimes this can be a good idea, often it can be counterproductive for a leader to be the facilitator.


Facilitation comes from the latin “Facile” which just means - “to make easy”. But the truth is, it is extremely hard to be both an effective leader and help a group have the right conversation. There are a few reasons for this, but some of the more commonly observed issues are:


It can be hard for a leader to make a safe space and hold the frame


When a leader self-facilitates, she always brings with her a lot of prior experiences and “baggage". These could include strong feelings she has on some issues, or existing relationships she naturally wants to protect. The problem is, any team knows that leaders have hidden preferences and will behave differently in a group when the leader is self-facilitating.


Even worse, every now and again we see leaders who think they are facilitating a group when really they're just taking the opportunity to tell everyone what's on their mind.


For a leader with a more nuanced understanding of how to lead people, it can be very powerful to step back and allow a group to roll around issues with honesty.


A leader stepping back is part of leadership


Listening is a critical part of a leader’s toolkit. But deep listening AND facilitating for conversation flow is particularly hard - especially when you are also the leader of a group.


CEOs often tell us the most refreshing thing about having a facilitator is the opportunity to listen to their team and participate as an equal during the planning conversations.


This doesn’t mean they won’t have a final say on direction, but it does mean they will increase their standing in the group.


Being part of the group builds trust


When a leader is able to step back and listen to a group, and participate as a member of the team, it builds bonds of trust with the rest of the team. This trust, formed though conversation, listening and understanding, creates huge gains in performance back in the business. But it is hard to build this kind of operational and team trust at the same time as facilitating a meeting.


A professional facilitator cares, but not THAT much


Sometimes it's useful to have someone who is just distant enough to help the team have the right conversation - even if that means taking some personal risk to help guide the facilitation discussion - with skill- into difficult territory.


Although it's never easy for a facilitator to ask a very confident senior leader to hold his thoughts for a moment while the group listens to a junior. But it is much easier for a facilitator to do this than for the junior themselves!


Stepping out altogether


Sometimes it is time for a leader to step up and out of a team and allow the team to reconvene and take responsibility without her.


And sometimes, they can be of most value by framing the issue the team is responding to in a facilitated session.


Setting goals and the BIG challenge


One way leaders can stay strong to the leadership component without sacrificing teamwork, is to set up the objectives of the facilitated session itself - or frame the aims of the session as a clearly defined goal or objective.


If that is clear up-front, they have done the 90% of leadership and can step back into the role of solving the problem with the rest of the team.


Next time, I’ll introduce you to the secrets of how facilitators can help your team solve problems. But until then, click here to learn how to facilitate your own workshop.

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©Turning Leaf, 2020