Facilitation skills are really important for project managers. Project management is all about getting work done through other people, so you need to be able to work effectively with groups to get to an end result. Mostly you will use facilitation skills in workshops and large meetings. These settings can be daunting if you haven’t run a large meeting before, so here are some ways to brush up your facilitation skills and plan your workshop so that you can feel confident in the role of chair.
1. Appoint the Right Roles
Putting together a project workshop takes a lot of advance planning. When you are in the room with your attendees, there are also plenty of things to do. As the project manager and workshop ‘host’ you can’t do it all. Enlist some of your project team, or other helpers from your Project Management Office (PMO) to assist with making the meeting run smoothly.
There are three roles that you will need as a minimum. First, you will need someone to lead or facilitate the meeting. This could be you, although you could also ask someone else to run it for you, if you would prefer to be actively involved in the participation and contribute fully to the discussion instead of keeping the meeting on track.
Second, someone should keep the group on time. The role of timekeeper is quite an easy one, so you could allocate this to a willing volunteer on the day. This job involves reminding people when it is time to move on to the next agenda item, stopping the group at timely moments for breaks and lunch and ensuring the meeting finishes on time, with enough time left over to discuss any other business or points that have been raised during the day that have not yet been discussed.
Third, a facilitated meeting needs someone to take notes – a scribe. This is a time-consuming role, especially if you think that there will be lots to record from the meeting. A scribe doesn’t need to know much (if anything) about the project, so this could be a good role for someone from the PMO to take. Scribes can be the person who records actions and decisions on the flip chart, or they can take notes by hand for typing up later or straight on to a laptop directly into the project management online software that the team uses.
Ground rules are the ‘code of conduct’ for behavior at the meeting. These could be things like no mobile phones, leaving office politics at the door, sticking to the agenda, respecting all opinions, allowing everyone to contribute equally and so on. You can come up with these as a group at the beginning of the meeting but in case no one has any ideas to contribute it is a good plan to have some suggestions of your own.
Make sure everyone agrees to them, and draw people’s attention back to them if you feel the meeting attendees are not respecting the rules. You can do this by writing them on a piece of flip chart paper and sticking them on a wall somewhere where everyone in the room can see them easily.
3. Work Out How you Will Make Decisions
Workshops normally involve some kind of decision making. How will you do this? You could try to get consensus, but in a big group this could be very difficult. You could agree that one person will make the decision after hearing the discussion and points raised by everyone, but that isn’t very democratic and may not be right for your meeting.
There are a number of other decision making techniques that you could try, such as voting. Ideally, the attendees at the workshop should agree on both the process for making decisions, and the decision itself.
This is a big area for the facilitator to get right, because if you don’t, the meeting will seem pointless and people will go away not knowing what has been decided or why. Leaving the situation unclear could lead to breakdowns in communication on the project and people not following up on their actions or taking the next steps in a constructive way.
4. Invite the Right People
It sounds obvious, but who are you inviting to this workshop? If you invite too many people then the meeting could take forever and it will be difficult to get anywhere near consensus for decision making. If you don’t have enough people in the room then you may not be able to make any decisions at all.
It is important to get the right people to attend the workshop. Think about the agenda and what topics the meeting will be covering. Then you can work out who from the project team or other groups needs to attend. If your first choice can’t attend, ask them to send a colleague, although ideally that person should also have the power to make decisions. It can be hard to feel as if the meeting has achieved anything if everyone has to leave and go back to talk to their boss before you can take any further steps or ratify any decisions.
When you are thinking about who to invite, also think about who to leave out. There could be good reasons, for example, for not inviting your project sponsor, especially if you think he or she could dominate the discussion and overrule any decisions or suggestions made by the group.
5. Brainstorm Effectively
You can’t make decisions unless you have a couple of options to choose from, at least, and that is where brainstorming comes in. You have probably used this technique before: noting down all the ideas raised by the group on a flip chart or using project management software. People can either shout out ideas or jot them down on sticky notes and pass them to the front.
Set out your brainstorming rules before the session starts. These should include the fact that no idea is stupid! You never know what that idea may spark in someone else, even if realistically you know that the idea raised would never work. Someone else may be able to adapt and build on that idea to come up with something that would be effective, so capture all the ideas.
At the point of capture, don’t judge the ideas. Just write them down. As part of this, don’t discuss them – otherwise you will stop the flow of creativity. Once the group has run out of ideas, you can start grouping them and crossing out suggestions that seem farfetched. You can then discuss your chosen ideas in more detail, refining your list more and more until you have a number of workable suggestions that could be put forward to your sponsor.
Facilitation is a skill that can be learned, but you get better with practice. Use these techniques even in relatively small meetings so that you can get a feel for how you would react in larger group sessions. Take turns with other key members of your project team to fulfil all the roles so that you have first-hand knowledge of what they involve. Try out different decision making techniques until you find one that suits your style of working most effectively. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to facilitate a meeting – often well put together, structured sessions are the ones people value the most on projects.
Use the file storage features in our software and upload all the output from your facilitated workshops. You can store images, documents and other files and share them quickly with your team, wherever they are based around the world. That’s great if you weren’t able to get all your key team members to the meeting and you want to share the information with everyone!