Team management often requires people to wear multiple hats and occupy many roles at once. A good team manager is a leader, a coach, a trainer, a mentor and much more besides. But what can team managers learn from facilitators and the world of facilitation?
Can you be a better manager by learning techniques from expert facilitators? We think so!
After a conversation with Myriam Hadnes, founder of Idayz and host at the Workshops Work podcast, we thought about some facilitation concepts and skills that a team manager could use when working with a team.
Here, we’ve collected 30 management skills and tips that can be learned by taking the lead from effective facilitators. Whether you are involved in people management, business management or any aspect of working with a team, the techniques and approaches of successful facilitation are great for improving communication, productivity, and any group process!
A great facilitator empowers a group to be more effective and focused, often with an emphasis on open communication and trust. What manager doesn’t want their team to be more effective?
Here, Myriam will share some insight from her facilitation practice and we’ll talk about how you can apply that to your practice as a manager.
Read on to learn how your team management skills can benefit from facilitation techniques and best practices!
People management is a process of motivating, leading and training people to perform well in their role, grow professionally and to be more content and productive at work.
As a team manager, people management involves getting to know your team, managing workload, and deadlines, resolving interpersonal issues and taking appropriate action to empower your team to do their best work.
Facilitation is all about guiding a group through a process and empowering them to voice their opinions, resolve interpersonal issues and work better as a team. Sounds a lot like management, doesn’t it?
Let’s look at some tips for people management you can learn from expert facilitators.
- Practice self-awareness as a manager
- Know your triggers
- Start discussions with a check-in
- Be the point of communication between executives and the rest of your team
- Remember that remote teams need as much care as local teams, if not more
- Trust in the group
- Listen and be empathetic
- Value new perspectives as well as experience
- Communicate with staff before meetings, workshops, and projects
- Practice self-care and encourage your team to do the same
“One thing that I learned quite early – but the hard way – was one of my participants once told me that he would like me to be more aware of the fact that my energy spills over to the group. […] I think part of the responsibility of being a facilitator is knowing that your energy and presence really has an impact.”
Managers have many roles and responsibilities and in each of them, the way they act can have a huge impact on the mood of the team and how they respond to tasks. Going into a team meeting where you will be holding the space or facilitating conversation while distracted, agitated or not fully present will invariably have an effect on the success of the meeting.
Try checking in with yourself before leading a workshop or going into a team meeting. Be aware of your state of mind, your mood and whether you are being your best self in your current environment. Taking a moment to check-in with yourself, adjust your mood and set your intention for a meeting can be the difference between having a productive meeting or being triggered and affecting the energy of a room.
Self-awareness also means knowing that managers are expected to lead, make decisions and practice a certain degree of authority in any team situation. For new managers in particular, adjusting to this can be difficult. Take a moment to acknowledge your position in any group and adjust accordingly.
“I think one of the biggest dangers for facilitators is to be triggered. Very often, there’s this one participant who might trigger something in us. Maybe it’s the person who always speaks or maybe it’s the person who never speaks. Maybe it’s the person who always has questions.
Whatever it is, if there is that person who triggers something in us, we can react nervously or become stressed and overreact. So let’s inhale, exhale, and decide not to react.”
Being an effective team manager means knowing yourself and separating your personal triggers from those of the organization and the team you are managing. Your team members will likely do things wrong at some stage, and you should absolutely be prepared to discuss how to improve behaviors and processes with your colleagues.
The key is to know whether the reason you are frustrated or triggered is personal or not. Reprimanding a member of staff without due cause or overreacting to something in a meeting is not an example of good management. By knowing your own triggers and pain points, you can be more effective in managing your staff, managing yourself, and taking action only when it is necessary.
“Participants come in and they still have the email that they didn’t reply to in their mind, or the phone call that they just received, or the kids they just dropped off at school. So mentally, they’re not present. Giving them the chance to check in and to arrive mentally in the space: that’s good.”
Good managers check-in with their team on a regular basis, whether this in the form of email, Slack, one-to-one meetings or water cooler chats. Giving people the opportunity to share concerns, ideas or just be listened to is an important aspect of any successful team.
When running an in-house meeting or workshop, it can be tempting to wade right into the deep water and get started with the focus of the session. Missing out on a check-in or warm-up can mean that your team hasn’t completely arrived mentally to the session and aren’t ready to participate as well as they could.
A check-in is also a great way for managers and facilitators to gauge the mood of the room and adjust or tailor forthcoming activities as necessary. Taking the time to check-in helps ensure that the meeting or workshop can be at its most effective.
“I can also act as an intermediary behind the scenes, briefing both parties and getting them on the same page regarding the purpose. Maybe they had something different in mind, but this process also gives me the chance of maybe convincing them that another purpose might be even better.”
Team managers have a responsibility of communication not only to their team but to the entire organization. This responsibility goes both ways – senior management should hear the concerns and ideas of every staff member, and every member of a company should regularly hear about what managers and executives are thinking.
As a team manager, you are a conduit between your team and the rest of the organization and can be the difference between keeping a team aligned and happy or unengaged and siloed.
Teams can become frustrated if they feel that they are not being heard by upper management or that they don’t understand the direction or reason behind a particular business decision.
Facilitators know that the key to ensuring good communication between executives and their teams is to communicate with both parties and prepare them to come together successfully and make the most out of shared meetings. When facilitating, the process is often one of helping different groups understand one another – as a team manager, this is part of your job too!
Effective team management often calls for shifting between periods of focus and big picture thinking – remember that while your team will sometimes require intense attention, you are also a conduit for helping groups within your organization understand one another, just like a facilitator.
Converse and share information with the necessary people beforehand and then get those people in a room together at the right time. By making the time that executives and your team spend together more effective, you increase buy-in and keep everyone happy.
“How come facilitators forget about all their facilitation skills as soon as they sit behind the screen? if I have a group of three or four people on the other side of the screen, why do I drop the check-in? It might seem awkward, but everyone loves it afterwards. Let’s assume the screen isn’t there and let’s facilitate a good meeting.”
Connecting with your team via conference calls or online meetings is becoming increasingly prevalent for teams of all shapes and sizes. A rise in remote working and distributed teams means that team members are more likely to engage in online communications as their main point of communication with their colleagues and managers.
Remote team members need as much attention and care as in-house staff and measures should be taken to stay engaged and in clear communication with those people.
Factor remote team members into your team management flow, and ensure that these people are included in communications, shown that they are valued and engaged with as much as possible. Have daily stand-ups over online chat software, communicate in Slack, share good news and have live working sessions.
Online meetings shouldn’t be fundamentally different than any other meeting – don’t forget your good habits because of the use of screens and ensure that best practices are followed. In small team meetings, a check-in and opportunity for people to share thoughts should happen regardless of whether it is online or not. Remember what works in live meetings and try to emulate that in your online meetings as much as the format allows.
Keeping remote workers engaged and connected is one of the biggest challenges in team management today. Remember the fundamentals of building successful teams and creatively apply those concepts to your remote team members. Loneliness or feelings of being disconnected is one of the biggest concerns for those working remotely and one of your management responsibilities is helping everyone on your team stay happy, connected and productive.
“I think if the facilitator doesn’t show up with the aim to serve the group, that’s a failure. As facilitators, we are in service for the group and everything we do should be good and valuable for them.
If I believe that I have the best outcome already in mind, I will consciously or unconsciously judge the group, because they’re not good enough, they’re not smart enough, they’re not creative enough, they don’t get it. And again, that’s my problem, not the group.”
As a manager, you often have an outcome or goal in mind when leading a team activity and want your team to reach the conclusion as swiftly as possible. Every meeting, workshop or training session takes up time that would otherwise be spent working, and so ensuring that meetings are time effective is an important aspect of team management.
Imagine you are trying to solve the problem of inter-team communication. Going into a room and instructing people in how to use asynchronous communication tools might help. But what if there are underlying team issues or conflicts that need to come to light in order to solve this problem?
If you were facilitating a meeting to help improve team communication, you would want to create a space where team members could discuss their thoughts on the issue and come up with their own ideas on possible solutions. Trust that the group knows the solution to their problem and just need help finding it. By being didactic and going in heavy-handedly, you might miss out on the insight and ability of your group to resolve these issues. Trust your team and help them find their way to the solution if applicable – it’s less work for you as a manager and helps your team take ownership over the outcome.
“I think one way to build trust in general, and this is not only for facilitators, but for any conversation, is to be present and to listen.”
Listening skills are important for everyone who works with others and even more so for managers. While a large part of your role involves speaking to your staff and relaying information, being an effective manager means listening to your teammates and truly understanding their concerns and needs.
There are many different roles of a manager, though whether you are leading a team development day or facilitating a disciplinary process, developing your listening skills and remembering to be empathetic will help ensure the process is successful.
Remember that the experience of being a team manager is very different than being a software engineer, a salesperson or being involved in customer support. Everyone on your team has a unique and valuable perspective that you should not only listen to but aim to empathize with. It will improve your people management skills and lead to a healthier, more productive team.
“If you have, for instance, an experienced facilitator with a background in HR and at the same table, a facilitator with a background in engineering. This person with an engineering background will approach the structure, design, facilitation techniques and process of workshop in a totally different way than a HR person, a psychologist, or linguist. Those different opinions are always useful.”
Any team is a composite of individuals with different backgrounds, skill sets, and experience levels. Organizational habits, processes, and methods are integral to successful teams, but be sure to welcome new opinions and invite feedback from everyone in the team.
Encourage staff to break out of silos and provide insight on how they can achieve this by creating channels of communication and forums where ideas can be brought forward. When facilitating a workshop, there are often those highly experienced people who are very forthcoming with ideas but by encouraging everyone to speak up, you can gain insight and new perspectives that can be incredibly valuable.
One of your managerial responsibilities is ensuring that everyone in your team feels heard but beyond that, can you afford to miss out on the perspectives of large numbers of your team because of their level of experience?
“I love to ask participants this question: ‘Imagine the evening after the workshop, you’re coming home and are meeting your friends. You start by saying, ‘Oh my goodness, what a waste of time!’ What must have happened during that day that you would make you consider it a waste of time?’ I learn a lot from their answers to this question because it actually hides what they really aspire for. I know the red flags and what I should avoid during the workshop.”
It can be tempting to hold all communication on the day of a meeting, workshop or when a project begins in earnest. Why waste time outside of the meeting, right? Wrong. By initiating conversation prior to the meeting or workshop, you ensure that people are prepared for the meeting, and you can further hone the topics and approach of the meeting. In a one-on-one setting, people can be honest and transparent in a way they might not be able to if dropped right into the middle of a project.
These can be in the form of pre-surveys or forms, or might be a quick conversation or email exchange. The key is in both preparing yourself and the participants and allowing a space for other insights or items that might come to light. You might find that you need to adjust the purpose of the meeting or provide space for other items.
By conducting preparatory chats ahead of the main work of a meeting or workshop, you can ensure that all the time spent in the project is productive and not wasted. Effective people management is all about knowing your team well and being aware of possible challenges as soon as possible. Having a forum for your team to discuss concerns with you before a project begins is good for everyone.
“I meditate. I go regularly to these 10-day silent meditation retreats and it’s incredibly hard but it’s so beneficial. It’s just totally changed me. […] This practice really helps us to observe more carefully, and then to realize that it’s about us and not about them. Most things are just about us.”
As a team manager, it can be easy to accept the entire responsibility of an organization on your shoulders and overstretch yourself.
Self-care is as important for a manager as it is for any other member of staff. You cannot be completely effective if you are stressed, distracted or unwell.
Whether you are implementing an employee wellness plan or nailing the basics, employee wellness doesn’t need to be flashy or expensive. Take breaks, practice regular working hours where you can, communicate your issues or concerns to your superiors, and take part in creating a positive working environment.
Facilitators know that in order to deliver effective workshops, you need to be at your best so that you can help other people be at their best. The energy and example you give as a leader influences your team. Investing in self-care means investing in the workplace happiness and productivity of not only yourself but your entire team.
People management requires empathy to be truly effective. Work on helping your team take care of themselves in ways both big and small and encourage them to do what they need to do to be happy, effective and rested.
Broadly, change management is a combination of processes, tools and techniques used by managers to facilitate the delivery and impact of change in an organization. Change management is often focused on how teams and employees in an organization will be affected by change, and a change manager is tasked with equipping and supporting staff to adopt change in their working practices.
Someone in charge of managing change might help individual members of a team get up to speed with new roles, new systems or changes to company culture. Change management incorporates aspects of both people management and business management, though asks for a greater degree of focus in that any change will likely require a bespoke response.
Facilitators are often tasked with instigating or supporting change in a team or organization and know that the adoption of any change is the cumulative result of many small steps. Approaching change with the mindset of a facilitator can help ensure every step involved in making organizational change is handled well and with the success of the team in mind.
These facilitation techniques will help any manager involved in change management with a view to make the change process easier for everyone on the team.
- Improve the norm
- Use preparatory tasks, but keep them simple
- Be prepared to own your mistakes and apologize when necessary
- Be confident though be aware of the power of your authority
- Know the purpose of what you are doing
- Intelligently plan and design your team meetings and projects…
- … but be careful not to over-engineer
- Have realistic expectations of your meetings
- Consider whether technology is the best solution in every situation
- Choose the right format for every discussion
“If you’re in a culture where maybe finger-pointing and blaming are status quo, you cannot immediately open the discussion to the ground and say, hey, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Who would stand up and speak? I wouldn’t. And if people are used to a culture of finger-pointing and blame, they’re only going to continue with that behaviour, right?”
Any team or organization develops a standard way of operating, be that in the way they conduct meetings, communicate, or resolve issues. That said, the status quo isn’t always the best way of doing things, and as a manager, you will need to judge whether these normalized practices are working, or whether they will need to change.
For facilitators, changing the norms means helping teams to improve the standard method of communicating, to get rid of bad habits and help make good practices the standard way of operating. This might mean challenging the way meetings are handled or the way important information is distributed.
Remember that change for change’s sake isn’t a good approach either. Effective change management means getting to know your team, identifying what works already, what needs changing, and then making effective decisions based on what you’ve learned. By changing the norm and elevating the way people do tasks, you empower them to do better work.
“There’s a little prep task where I would ask them to either think about a topic or to bring an idea. Usually, I try to boil it down to something that is so easy that they can do it on the commute to the workshop. I think in 90% of the cases, participants don’t have time to prepare beforehand and they don’t want to prepare beforehand.”
On a similar note to the above, giving participants a small homework task to help them prepare for a task can be useful in ensuring it’s a success. By coming to the room prepared and with some ideas, you can avoid some of the throat clearing and alignment issues that can come from going into a project blind.
Organizational change can be difficult for a team to get their heads around. By feathering preparatory tasks into the run-up to a decisive meeting, you can help that process easier to digest for all involved.
An important thing to remember is that staff often have a number of tasks they are juggling and may not have time to complete large preparatory tasks for a team meeting. Be realistic in what you set your staff to do before a meeting, allow time for them to do it and accommodate space in the session to reflect on this preparatory task if necessary.
As a manager, you know your team best and should tailor the preparatory tasks to their workflow and the needs of the project. Remember that any prep task should have value but should not be so much work that it is not completed by your team. This is a tough balance but one well worth striking as it can improve the efficacy of any given task or workshop.
“One way to build trust in general is admitting if I got it wrong. The participants really appreciated and acknowledged me just owning my mistake and turning it into a learning opportunity for all of them, but also saying, okay, sorry, it’s me!”
No one is infallible, and even managers will make mistakes over the course of their business career. Being a team manager means working with your team to help them improve, own their mistakes and work smarter, rather than harder.
Owning your mistakes and being open and honest with your team builds trust, and inspires them to do the same. Model the behavior you want to see and take responsibility if you’ve messed up.
Making large structural changes to a team or organization is often an iterative, experimental process, and so mistakes are likely to happen. Effective change management means not only being alert to the possibility of error but owning such errors when they do arise and then learning from them.
Remember: blame and finger-pointing is not the way to go in any instance, and self-blame for blames sake is not a good way to go either. This process is about accountability and creating learning opportunities from mistakes, rather than throwing yourself or another member of staff to the wolves.
Take responsibility, but don’t jump on the grenade and undermine your position. Apologizing does not mean beating yourself up but rather acknowledging the mistake, making amends and moving forward.
“So recently, I just forgot half of the exercise halfway through. I got distracted and lost my way and at one point, the participant pointed it out. I thanked him for noticing it and we moved on, but this one person was the only one who said something. All the others would have just played along.
This also shows the authority that a facilitator has in that very few people doubt what you’re doing and most of them just trust that it makes sense. You have to be aware and mindful of your authority in a room.”
Confidence is a key skill in any managerial position – being able to lead, make decisions and push forward with actions requires a large degree of confidence. That said, confidence without consideration, factual back-up or appropriate expertise is unlikely to yield good results. On the contrary, blind confidence is likely to result in bad decisions and frustrate members of your team.
Working in team management means ensuring that your own sense of confidence and authority does not prevent other people from speaking up and contributing. Just by being in your position as a manager, certain members of the team might feel too intimidated to contribute, or will follow your lead even if they may have some insight that could lead to a better outcome.
Be confident, but create ample space for your team to offer their insights. Allow for a democratic process, though be clear that the ultimate decision making and higher tier strategy lies with you.
Change management is the art of ensuring change actually happens and is adopted by your team – confidence and authority are key components of making this happen, though be sure not to silence your team either.
“Whether I have to facilitate the workshop myself or advise or coach someone else to facilitate it, I always start with getting really clear on what is the purpose of the workshop? Why is it that we expect a room full of people to spend a full day joining us on this journey?”
Being clear on the purpose of what you are doing as a manager is crucial to being an effective leader or business manager. Whether it’s a marketing campaign, developing new products or leading a workshop on design thinking, you should know the purpose of the task and be clear with everyone else involved as to what that purpose is.
In the case of a team meeting or workshop, knowing the specific purpose is crucial in ensuring that you stay on task, that you and your participants are sufficiently prepared, and that you can accurately measure whether the task was successful.
For facilitators, this means knowing the problem you want to solve and designing a process to help a team of people find a solution to that problem. Purpose is the key factor behind any business decision and workshops and team meetings are no different.
As a manager, doing things with purpose is integral to success, whether that’s in discussions with your superiors or helping everyone align and rally behind a common goal. To go further, managing organizational change without a clear knowledge of purpose is a recipe for disaster. Get this right before you begin and many other things will fall into place.
“Everyone attending a full day workshop is not doing any other work so the opportunity costs are substantial – what is in it for them? And what is the purpose? What do we want to get out of it? Why is it important that all these people come together? Once we have this clear, then the next step is deciding which people need to be in the room in order to achieve that.”
Careful planning and designing of the structured time you will be spending with your team will improve the results of those endeavors.
There is always value in getting your team together in one room, though without structure, purpose or planning, such a session can be unproductive or frustrating.
Remember that change management is often not a single project but a composite of many smaller meetings, workshops, projects, and tasks. By intelligently designing each component and ensuring its success, the larger goal of enacting organizational change can then be reached.
Plan your sessions with a goal or outcome in mind and plan and structure your workshops and meetings so they are best positioned to meet that goal. Facilitators always create their workshops and meetings with a desire to create an effective outcome, using techniques and exercises that have been shown to see great results.
Effective change is driven by an entire team or organisation working together in tandem, filtering down to everyday tasks such as meetings or training sessions. Design these tasks with care and help change be adopted from the bottom up.
“Because I think the art of facilitation is to trust that the group will figure it out and not to try to over-engineer an outcome. Someone in an interview recently said, ‘If I look at an agenda, and I see that every three minutes or five minutes actually scheduled, I see that this is going to go wrong.’ Because as a facilitator, you’re going to be stressed and the stress will spill over to the group. So, less is more!’
Planning is important, but stuffing a meeting with exercises and engineering your workshop down to each minute will likely increase your stress level. Stressed managers and teams do not perform at their best and overplanning also means you can be inflexible to what a group needs in the moment.
The best facilitators know that the group is the source of the solution – make sure you give the group the space to find that solution, rather than be bogged down with a large number of exercises or hoops to jump through. Effective team management is a careful balance between leading a group and letting a group lead you and any project should have space for both approaches.
The over-engineering or over-planning of a workshop can be indicative of another management habit that you may wish to avoid: micromanagement. Micromanagers tend to closely observe and control the work of their team and are perhaps over-involved and don’t give their team members the freedom to work, suggest solutions or make decisions.
Facilitation is about process, rather than content. What this means is that when you get people into a room to resolve a problem or attend a workshop, you want to create a space where they can discover solutions. This means creating space for discussion, thought, and action.
Both overengineers and micromanagers can benefit from developing a process that their staff go through, and letting go of some of the anxiety over what their team is doing. Hire the right people, guide them carefully, ensure open channels of communication and empower them to do good work and your team will perform. This is one of the best lessons a manager can learn from the world of facilitation.
“If you cannot put everything you want to do in order to achieve the result within the timeframe, then either you have to boil it down, reduce the goal or to allow more time. But don’t step into the trap where you try to put everything into a session and then you would cut out the warm up or check in. Without a proper warm-up the group is not ready when you jump into solution design and the solutions that come out won’t be good enough.”
Finding solutions to difficult problems takes time, effort and careful consideration. A carefully planned and well facilitated one-hour meeting can see great results, but you are unlikely to come up with a solution to all of a companies issues.
Be realistic about what you can achieve in the time spent in a meeting, and plan accordingly. At the design stage, prioritize the outcomes you want to see and streamline your agenda to achieve those outcomes. A key aspect of change management is ensuring your expectations for creating change are realistic and that you have the means to achieve it – this idea should be expanded to any task a manager performs with their team.
Having realistic expectations of a meeting or project means not overloading the agenda with items, giving your team all the tools they need to help make it a success and facilitating effectively. In the broader scope of change management, having realistic expectations means knowing the purpose, parameters, and means of creating that change and weighing that against your resources.
Enable your team to help you create change but ensure they have the means to do so in order to avoid frustration and create resistance to what you are trying to accomplish.
“It’s mostly about the purpose and also about the setting. So if you have 200 people in a room and you’re running a workshop with 200 people that you then break down into smaller groups, it might make sense to have a way to get everyone’s insights quickly. But then, is it really that important to have everyone’s voice visible for everyone? Or is it maybe more important to have deeper conversations amongst smaller groups?”
At its best, technology makes work life easier and more effective. Certain situations demand the use of technology, and co-creating and collaborating is made much more productive with online tools. In today’s workplace, technology is everywhere and managers can leverage online tools to manage projects, design workshops and keep their team connected.
Workshops, meetings and training sessions can benefit from technology if it suits the purpose, though bear in mind it can be a distraction. If you are leading a team-building exercise with a small team, is the use of high-tech tools going to be a benefit or a barrier?
People management without direct, face-to-face conversation is difficult. A great team manager might use tools like Slack to communicate with their team but remember the value of face-to-face chats, in-person meetings, and phone calls. Sometimes, a difficult team management issue can be resolved much more quickly in a phone call than it can be over email or in a collaboration tool.
Facilitators tailor the tools they are using to the task. When the goal of a workshop or meeting is to have insightful, open conversations that help a team come up with a solution or work towards a common goal, do you need to log feedback on a mobile device? Always keep the purpose and format of a session in mind, use whatever is easiest and empower your team to do the best work they can without distraction or need to upskill on new tools unnecessarily.
“Unstructured masterminds can be problematic if the group gets into this dynamic where everyone just hears whatever sounds interesting to them, and then spits out their own advice, their own experience, something that they would rather tell themselves.”
The format of any given discussion or issue matters. Remember to tailor your approach and format to the task at hand. If you are in the idea generation phase of a project, you might want to encourage group discussion and free conversation. If you are the stage of rolling out a solution to an issue across the company, your meeting or workshop should reflect that.
Managers of large teams or multiple sub-teams will need to carefully decide whether a certain type of meeting is needed or not, and who should attend a given meeting.
Group size and make-up is important. If you’re leading a session with a small number of people, the format might be more loose and free and you might give everyone a chance to speak. In a large group, smaller groups with breakout sessions might be better.
Remember your purpose when thinking about a meeting or workshop format. Choose a format that best supports your purpose and allows your team to move towards that goal. Not every project you work on with your team needs to be an open forum.
Change management is a multifaceted process and you will likely need to use different discussion formats at different stages. Rolling out agreed-upon change or training staff with a new tool is an entirely different prospect than having a large group chat about the change your team would like to see.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for group interaction and great team managers know what format will work best for the task at hand.
More focused on the greater goals and organization of an entire business, business management is a broader school of processes and responsibility than the managing of people or change specifically. Business managers will likely be involved in everything from the positioning of a business, delivering on financial goals, figuring out the logistical needs of a growing organization
In short, business management is the process of managing and leveraging the resources of an entire business to achieve your business goals. To be an effective business manager, you will also need to be great at managing people and change, but also be proficient in other areas such as finances, growth and big picture thinking.
Great facilitators are experts in bringing a group together, focusing on a problem and coming up with effective solutions. Facilitation is a means of making a team more efficient. Ensuring efficiency is one of the cornerstones of business management, whether the business is a software company, retail organization or something else entirely.
A strong business is predicated on empowering everyone in an organization to contribute to its growth and success. These facilitation tips will help you manage the people in your organization and improve your business management skills, whatever your industry!
- Empower your team instead of telling them what to do
- Set clear goals, actions, and means to follow up
- Be available, visible and present
- Know the value of positive feedback and encouragement
- Demonstrate the values you want to see
- Keep learning
- Develop a process and document it
- Explain the why
- Timebox tasks
- Share feedback and results with your team
“Facilitation means giving clarity about priorities, helping people with issues and conflict, providing tools and resources, answering questions, but not telling individuals what they have to do, because they will figure it out. And most of the time they know it best. They don’t need someone to tell them what to do.”
Good managers delegate. Great managers empower their team to do the best work they can. This means not only doling out tasks and offering solutions to problems when they arise but giving your team the tools and processes they need to come up with their own solutions and take true responsibility for their work.
Don’t hoard knowledge and take on every task yourself – upskill the members of your team and put trust in those people to accomplish tasks. Involve your team in every phase of a project where applicable, whether it’s planning, implementation or followup.
No team manager is smarter than all of their team working together, and by including and empowering your team in their work, you can improve ownership and a sense of accomplishment. Business management is often the art of spinning many plates at once. By better facilitating the members of your team and enabling them in their work, you can then create the space and time to focus on business-critical items and keep everything on track.
“It’s my task to help a group to get from confusion to clarity to action, and it’s my task to get rid of all distractions and obstacles so that they can help themselves.”
Allowing time for debriefing and the setting of actions is a key part of the facilitation process. Helping a team come up with a solution to an issue or develop a new strategy will have no effect if the relevant follow-up actions aren’t taken.
Remember that every meeting or project should have a goal you are working towards and that you should have time in the session to clearly articulate to your team what you will do next in order to achieve the goal. As a manager, it’s your job to articulate this clearly and sum-up the actions you want your team to take.
While you may step back from a group discussion to allow your team to generate ideas and engage in a process fully, it is your responsibility as a business manager to step-in and set clear future actions. Effective business management means being having organizational oversight and setting both long and short term goals that align with your business strategy.
By doing some or all of this at the end of a meeting rather than afterward, you can capitalize on the engagement and energy of the session and ensure future actions are taken.
Be sure to set deadlines and establish a means and process for proper follow-up. Projects can only be successful with momentum, accountability and a degree of oversight. Take the time to check-in with your staff and follow-up after the meeting so that they are clear on the next steps and are best positioned for success
“I think one major characteristic for being a good facilitator is presence. To be fully there, not distracted, and to be mentally and physically present.”
Balancing tasks and workload is one of the key responsibilities of a team manager. Often, a manager is spinning several plates at once, and it can be very easy to be distracting and overwhelmed.
Workshops and team meetings benefit from focus – knowing the purpose and leaving aside non-essential items. To be an effective facilitator in those settings, a team manager should be similarly focused and present. Come to a meeting prepared, present and focused. Take a moment before the meeting or workshop to clear your mind of extraneous items and be fully present in the current activity.
Having presence in a meeting also means being engaging, and both leading and guiding people in the way they need to be guided. It is difficult to be good at people management without first managing yourself and being fully present in whatever activity you have brought your team together for.
Being available is also an important facet of business management. Your team members cannot raise concerns or share great ideas if they can’t reach you. Ensuring that team members at any level, whether they are senior or junior, can reach you is integral in keeping your team engaged and effective.
“It’s crucial because it creates trust and a sense of psychological safety; that what you say and who you are is enough and is okay. […] All facilitators say, we have to get people out of their comfort zone in order to think out of the box and that’s true, but being out of the comfort zone is out of the comfort zone!”
At some point in their careers, everyone needs reassurance that what they are doing is right. Positive feedback is an important factor in helping your team be open, honest and continue to do great work.
A team manager should be alert to what their team is doing and take steps to acknowledge good work with positive feedback and create a positive working environment where everyone feels seen and valued.
Healthy businesses benefit from the wellbeing of their staff and an environment where staff members are encouraged to contribute to the overall health of the business. A good business manager works to cultivate these values.
Encourage the behavior you want to see. Acknowledge that sharing opinions, discussing difficult topics or bringing new ideas to a group is hard and reward the effort your team makes to be a part of the conversation. Being out of the comfort zone can be made more comfortable by the actions of an empathetic, positive manager.
“If someone is mentally distracted, there’s a sensor in us, an instinct that means we get it right away. I think this makes us lose trust points and so rightly so. Why would I trust someone who’s in charge of the process but doesn’t pay attention and is not present?”
The best workshops or team meetings are dynamic, energized and a place for open, honest discussion. But how can a manager help create an environment where that can happen?
In a facilitation environment, leading by example and demonstrating the etiquette and approach you expect from your participants can be integral in ensuring an effective outcome. Team managers also need to take this approach both inside and outside of meetings and special projects. If you want your staff to communicate better, you need to begin by communicating better as a manager.
Having a set of best practices and circulating those ahead of a meeting is great, but don’t stop there. Show your staff how to participate and engage. Be positive, open and communicative, and be sure to listen. Not only will your team follow your example, but this also helps build a sense of trust that can be so important in building a happy and productive team.
Fundamentally, cultivating the values and behaviors you want to see in your team means living them yourself, leading by example and being not only a good business manager but a good member of the organization.
While team communication is a good place to start, don’t stop there. Think of how you want bugs to be reported, issues raised, sign-offs handled and projects to be documented and be sure to hold your staff to standards you also hold yourself to as a team manager.
“Sometimes you can run into the trouble of overconfidence – I’ve seen it all, I’ve done it all. And then to have a question from a newbie who asks a naive question about why you are doing it this way, what if you did it differently, can really help someone who is experienced.”
Learning, and continuing to learn is a core part of being a facilitator, as well as being a manager. Whether it’s learning the latest techniques and exercises, learning more about yourself, your organization or industry, continuing to be open to learning opportunities is integral to both personal and organizational growth.
Anyone leading a team can benefit from continuing to learn and by not resting on your laurels or believing you know everything on a particular subject.
Take opportunities to learn more about your team by encouraging feedback and having meetings where open discussion is encouraged. Engage with peers and your community and be sure to learn from your customers too. Has your product or service changed or grown? Get up to speed.
Business management means being aware of every part of the organization and learning the skills, proficiencies, and details you need to be the most effective manager you can be.
Continuing to learn also means looking at your competitors, looking for emerging trends in your field and allowing yourself opportunities to do so. It can be very easy when managing a team to be snowed under by administrative tasks. While these items are crucial to effective business management, so too is the learning you can do to improve your processes, insight, and ability.
“I’m so all over the place and creative that I have to force myself into a very structured process in order to keep on track and not get distracted with a million ideas. At one point, I wrote down all the steps that I have to follow in order to design a workshop. And I thought, oh, cool, it’s going to be a five-step process and that’s going to be fine. Then it turned out to be a 12 step process!”
Designing and leading a great team meeting, design workshop or organizational task can be difficult and time-consuming. Creating a process for these tasks not only allows you to clearly structure and develop your approach to these tasks but makes the process more effective too.
Save time in the future by documenting and backing up your agenda, design process or organizational approach. Great managers know that sharing resources and empowering staff to learn from example can be invaluable in upskilling your team.
Most management tasks will be repeated throughout a manager’s career: team meetings, one-to-ones, yearly reviews, design workshops will be repeated again and again.
By developing a clear process for approaching, performing and reflecting on these tasks, you can take the pain out of performing them in the future. In the process of documenting your process, you might also find that you are missing something or could do something better.
Having strong and clear processes is one aspect of business management – get into the habit of having processes in place and clearly documenting them. Your future self will thank you for it.
“ I think the way we explain an exercise is important, and I tend to always explain why we’re doing what we’re doing. […] You’re also signaling to the participants that you know what you’re doing and that you have a process in mind. There’s a lot of potential resistance you can eliminate beforehand.”
Getting people on board, invested and productive is easier if they know the reason behind what they are doing. This is especially important when it comes to discussing large projects or organizational changes – leaving your team in the dark can lead to frustration.
Clearly articulating the purpose and aims of a project helps get your team aligned and moving in the right direction. You might even find that by being open about the purpose and reasoning behind a project you invite new ideas that can improve any project or initiative.
Having to articulate the reasoning behind a project or initiative is also invaluable in ascertaining if it is the right decision and for pointing out any potential challenges.
Remember that being a good team manager means utilizing and involving everyone on your team. From both a business management and people management perspective, involving everyone and getting them on board by explaining the why is not only efficient but good for morale.
By explaining the impetus and reason for making a change, you also allow your team to trust in the process and believe in what is being done. Trust is invaluable in an organization of any size and by being open and clearly explaining the reason behind business decisions, you can build a strong sense of unity among your team.
“You have to set priorities. You have to timebox and be very clear on what needs to be left outside of the conversation.”
Effective time management is important for any team and as a manager, one of your key responsibilities will be keeping your team productive, on track and on time.
Timeboxing is a key component of agile and scrum processes: timeboxing is creating fixed time periods in which activities or tasks are to be completed. Timeboxes can be used over short periods of minutes or hours, or for longer periods of weeks and months depending on the project or task. The key is to check progress at the end of a timebox and review whether the action has been completed.
By using timeboxes consistently across your team, you can ensure that your staff are accountable and get into the habit of completing tasks in a certain timeframe. Managing a business without consideration of deadlines is unlikely to deliver the best results. Use timeboxing to take your business management to the next level.
“After the workshop, we have the goals and the outcome and these piles of sticky notes and I would send them a summary and they would translate that into action packages that they would work on.”
Creating an effective team means including your staff wherever you can. Creating a process that allows time and scope to share feedback and results with your team not only increases engagement and buy-in but also ensures you can get everyone on your team can be involved in future learning.
Being transparent with the results of an initiative, project or specific workshop can also help ensure alignment on future actions. Make those reports easy to understand for everyone it will reach and make them easily accessible.
Getting as many eyes on feedback, particularly qualitative feedback such as customer surveys, can be useful when it comes to interpreting and making judgments based on that data.
The key here is sharing information that allows your team to contribute – every person on your team has skills and insight and by including them in this part of the process, you tap into those skill sets in a meaningful way.
At its heart, facilitation is about developing a better group process: by developing a system of open feedback loops, you are developing a stronger and more inclusive business that can benefit from the insight of everyone inside it. Business management processes become easier if they utilize the full resources and insight of the team. Use them!
Team management is not an exact science. Every group of people is different and comes with their own needs, personalities, and challenges. Being a good manager means learning how to help your team be more effective and successful and empowering them to do good work.
Facilitation works. Teams that go through expertly facilitated and designed workshops and meetings are then positioned to not only be more productive, happy workers but better communicators too.
Whether you are involved in people management, change management or business management in some combination, solid facilitation techniques can help you be more effective, be a better communicator and avoid making costly business mistakes.
By using facilitation skills in your approach to team management, you can benefit from a school of thought and learning that is proven to get results. Managing a team, business or change can be difficult, though can be made easier by empowering your staff to be happier and more productive in the workplace.
Are you a facilitator with some insight into being a better manager? Are you a change manager interested in facilitation? Get in touch below – we’d love to hear from you!
Myriam is a behavioural economist who uses scientific evidence to design and facilitate workshops that enable teams to communicate, collaborate and co-create effectively. You can find more insights on workshop design and facilitation on her website and listen to her podcast series Workshops Work for more insight.