Change is always coming, embrace modern leadership to prepare for it.

Facilitation has always mattered, but as the workplace faces more and more frequent change in the face of technological advancement, its importance will continue to grow. The nature of work is changing, and we must pay attention to the shifting landscape. Let’s take a look at how to embrace and grow the art of facilitation to prepare for the future of work.

Change is Always Coming: Moore’s law, leadership restructuring, and change management

Technological advancement is accelerating exponentially; according to Moore’s Law, the power of computers is expected to double every two years. At this point, the only way for organizations to outpace a growing snowball of technological advancement is to be highly adaptive. They must constantly adapt and readapt both to new technologies and the resulting evolution of industry standards. What’s more, these constant changes result in quick shifts in cultural notions surrounding workplace culture and employee expectations. Change isn’t just coming; change is already here.

Here’s the awesome news: change is not a bad thing. Change is an opportunity. Change is a gateway to creativity, innovation, and growth. If harnessed correctly, change can be one of your organization’s most potent nutrients.

Perhaps one of the largest and most overhauling changes we’ve recently seen in office culture is the shift away from hierarchal leadership. In hierarchal leadership models, there are rigid structures of power – big bosses that call all of the shots and large numbers of less autonomous team members at the bottom who defer to the decisions and desires of those above them. This structure almost always goes hand-in-hand with top-down project management styles in which managers make all of the plans, assigns all of the tasks, create all of the schedules, and makes all of the decisions. There are many pitfalls to this approach to leadership. Constant supervision and lack of opportunity to take ownership of a project can feel oppressive and even infantilizing. Utilizing room intelligence is near-impossible, as team members are not encouraged to collaborate but instead to complete a list of tasks. More inexperienced team members will rarely get the opportunity to learn from more experienced team members. The team will not feel personally invested in the work at hand and will therefore produce less quality work and be less likely to stick around. Arguably worst of all, the weight of every idea and decision falls on one person; one single manager that, no matter how incredible, is not as capable, well-rounded, creative, or experienced as an entire team of people with unique skillsets, capabilities, and insights.

What we’re seeing is a shift towards distributed leadership and bottom-up project management. In a distributed leadership structure, team members within a group are specialists in their own work. They are empowered to act independently and trusted to ask for help when/if they need it rather than being constantly supervised. Leadership is more fluid and each team member can be a leader in their own area of expertise. Teams make decisions through open discussion and come to a consensus (sometimes with the help of a facilitator) rather than operate in the confines of a rigid hierarchal pyramid. Bottom-up project management asks team members to be actively involved in most or all of their projects. Tasks and deadlines are set according to team member input, which means team members have the opportunity to take on what they feel is realistic for them. The trust, respect, and reliance on the capabilities of each member of the team seen in these leadership styles lead to better work and happier employees who take ownership of their work. They are more likely to weather the storm of a project rather than turning their heads and looking the other way when extra work needs to be done.

Distributed leadership may seem more complicated than traditional hierarchal structures; this is true, but also beneficial.  Organizations with a more complex structures see closer relationships between lower level employees and those with more authority, which can lead to lower level employees having a voice and influence over the direction of the organization. A series of multi-layered, interwoven networks of communication allow organizations to approach changes as opportunities to grow.

If you’ve made it this far, you won’t be surprised to hear that we love plans. They provide structure and assist in good, panic-free decision making. A change management plan will provide a clear structure for adapting to change and harnessing its true power; it will keep you from reacting in a knee-jerk fashion without proper forethought. VUCA (an acronym – volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) is a popular strategy for organizations use to devise effective change management plans. Carefully consider how each piece of the acronym could potentially affect your product and create a plan for handling those situations ahead of time. With your team, consider specific situations in which VUCA could interfere. If your team is properly prepared, you will be able to harness the power of change to the project’s benefit.

Modern Leadership: Facilitators as coaches

Once upon a time, quantitative metrics reigned supreme in the workplace. All that mattered was each employee’s numbers. The Big Boss at the top of the rigid leadership pyramid came up with all of the ideas, then took credit for their implementation by lower level employees. This is not so in the present and will be flat out archaic in the near future. As more work becomes automated, employees expect to be seen as people first. If numbers are all that matter, their more human capabilities of creativity and collaboration are not valued; no one wants to be seen as a machine except maybe machines, but we would argue that machines don’t care much how people see them. Facilitators help organizations harness these uniquely human capabilities by coaching rather than managing. They ensure that everyone on the team has a voice – and when everyone has a voice, everyone has a personal stake in the work that they’re doing.

Employees are increasingly prioritizing office culture in their job searches; advances in technology have blurred the lines between life and work, causing disillusionment with the traditional 9-5. Our modern cultural consciousness no longer believes in unquestioning loyalty to workplaces in which employees don’t feel valued. Employees look for workplaces where they can grow as people as well as workers. They want to feel that they are growing, learning, valued and respected members of a team – and if they don’t feel that way, they will move elsewhere. People want to work together. They want to make connections and grow; they want to collaborate and create rather than do busy work all day every day. People want to do meaningful work. If you aren’t coaching your team members – nurturing their capabilities, harnessing their strengths, valuing their insights – they will move elsewhere. Adopting a facilitation mindset is important for retaining talent.

Partnership and teamwork have become increasingly crucial in the workplace as business landscapes become more and more virtual.

The internet makes connection and collaboration easier than over. Technological innovation has provided teams with an entire (and ever-expanding arsenal) of tools to supplement and enhance their teamwork.

Soft skills – communication, creativity, problem-solving, etc. – are becoming more and more crucial to employee success as technology advances individual ability to fill in gaps in hard skill knowledge. Soft skills make team members adaptable, a crucial key to success as technology advances so rapidly. This is why coaching is modern leadership. Hard skills are teachable; soft skills are coachable. To succeed in this age of technology, teams need to be coached; they need to be facilitated.

Workplace hierarchies used to be very rigid. Managers and executives were expected to have all of the answers and be in total control. Now, workplaces are often fast-paced environments in constant flux; it would be impossible for anyone in an organization to have all the answers when the questions are changing so rapidly. Leadership that adopts a facilitation mindset sets both themselves and their team up for success, while leadership that tightly clings to unsustainable management structures of the past will stunt the growth of their organizations. Coaching team members rather than mandating rigid guidelines allows team members to soar rather than languish. 

The Butterfly Effect: The healthy cycle of good facilitators and good participants

Here’s the big secret about magical meetings – they’re not just about the meetings themselves. When an organization creates a meeting culture that allows their teams to effectively collaborate and communicate, they will carry those skills and attitudes into everything they do. Innovation, creativity, adaptability, and communication will leak out of the meeting room and into the organization’s day-to-day.

Facilitators model behavior that they want to encourage in participants. In the moment, they may be focusing on helping the group perform a task, but in the big picture what they’re doing is training participants to adapt to collaborative co-creation, rapid discovery, and inclusive decision-making.

Facilitators help everyone in the room bring out their potential; this will lead to team members discovering their teammates strengths and capabilities, leading to better teamwork and a more inclusive environment outside of the meeting room. Facilitators generate energy, engage the imagination, and build ownership over the project at hand. They turn conflict into a conduit for creativity, reframing discord as opportunity. They bring people together and foster enthusiasm. All of this will leak into your workplace and shape how your team interacts with each other in the day-to-day.

Truly great facilitation doesn’t just result in a successful meeting; it transforms your organization with better collaboration and communication mindsets, habits, and capabilities amongst team members.

Hiring a Facilitator: When Your Organization Should & When it Shouldn’t

Facilitators are a powerful tool for your organization’s meetings. Like any powerful tool, in some situations, their use can be overkill. So how do you decide when you should hire a facilitator – and when you shouldn’t?

Hiring a facilitator is a no-brainer when your meeting needs an unbiased leader. If the leadership at your organization – who would normally spearhead a meeting – has a personal or professional stake in the direction the meeting may go that may jeopardize outcomes, an unbiased facilitator should be brought in. Facilitators are neutral leaders; their only skin in the game is ensuring that the team sticks to the ground rules, stays on task, and actively participates in the work at hand. They are not involved in office politics and are therefore able to enforce the ground rules without any doubts that this may be personal. Bringing a facilitator into these meetings also allows leadership to focus on active participation as a stakeholder without the added responsibilities of managing the meeting.

Because of their neutral standing, facilitators can make team members feel more comfortable sharing ideas or opinions that may be in opposition to the majority. The facilitator isn’t invested in the content of the meeting but rather the meeting’s success, so they can navigate a political or emotionally charged conversation constructively. If you anticipate handling sensitive content during your meeting, it may be best to hire a facilitator.

Bringing in a facilitator can be an awesome way to reset your meeting culture. If you’ve received a lot of negative feedback or if there’s a general disenchantment about your organization’s meeting culture, inviting a facilitator into the space can lower everyone’s guard and improve the room’s attitude. If you’re already working to improve your organization’s meetings, bringing in a facilitator can start your team off on the right foot.

New faces generate excitement and will take the team off of autopilot if they’re accustomed to meetings that are less than participatory. Because the team doesn’t know the facilitator, they won’t feel pressured to impress them as they might a supervisor. These are both benefits to bringing in an outside facilitator that will result in more candid conversation and smoother fluidity of ideas in your meeting space. If your organization has been stuck on an endeavor, an outside facilitator may be exactly what it needs to move forward.

Finally, hiring a facilitator may be a great learning tool. It can be overwhelming to make great big changes to a long-established meeting system. If you like to learn by watching, observing a facilitator working with your team can be a valuable experience. You may even make discoveries about individual team members as well as the team as a whole. Facilitators are experts at balancing personality types and leveling the metaphorical volume of voices in the room; watching a facilitator unlock the potential of your less extroverted team members will help you harness your team’s room intelligence in the future.

Here’s the tl;dr –  you likely need a facilitator for a gathering that is high-stakes, handles sensitive or controversial content, tackles a complex situation that needs to involve leaderships’ opinions, or resolves around something that you’ve met about multiple times without getting anywhere. You may also want to bring in a facilitator if you’re getting started on your journey to a better meeting culture to hit the reset button on the team’s attitude towards meetings and give you, as the team’s future facilitator, a valuable learning experience.

Clearly, facilitators are secret weapons in a wide variety of situations. Not every meeting, however, requires one. When should you not bring in a facilitator? 

It is very unlikely that you need to hire a professional facilitator for a weekly team meeting. If your team meets regularly to share updates/information and ask questions, there is really no need to bring in a facilitator. Not only would these kinds of meetings not need the facilitators’ large toolkit of frameworks, methods, and expertise, but hiring someone else to run them would waste an opportunity for your organization’s leadership to practice facilitation skills. Use these meetings as a chance to practice balancing participation, staying on schedule, and other facilitation skills we’ve discussed so far.

Not all meetings are high-stakes. If your organization is calling a meeting to make small, low-stakes decisions, a facilitator is not necessary and may even slow down the decision-making process in these instances. There’s no need to bring in an unfamiliar face to make a decision about employee birthday traditions or the office’s snack list (unless things get really heated over whether to purchase white cheddar or spicy cheddar cheesy puffs).

Finally, logistical meetings may not need an outside facilitator. If your team is already on the same page about the big picture aspects of what they’re working on but needs to touch base on the finer, more technical details – like updating the task list or locking down a date – you may not need to hire a facilitator. In some instances, these logistical decisions may be high-stakes – in which case you should consider bringing in a facilitator – but often small details of this nature just need to be nailed down without too much pomp and circumstance. If your team spends twenty minutes discussing every small technicality of a project, the project will never be finished. Save outside facilitation for meetings that would really benefit from creative problem-solving, ideation, collaboration, and/or unbiased leadership.

Looking for a facilitator?

If you’d like to hire a workshop facilitator for your next meeting or training, consider our services at Voltage ControlWe offer a range of facilitation and innovation workshops that can help your company to get to the next level of employee engagement, growth, and innovation.