Facilitation – Super important Soft Skill for problem solvers

Hello everyone. Last time, I wrote about the “workshop” where to ask Gemba members to come up with solutions to solve problems in the “to-be (future state design)”.

In this blog, I would also like to write about the soft skills necessary for problem solving (something like core skills and basic skills, against “hard skills” that are specific tools and techniques. Facilitation is one of them). I’ve already written several times in my previous posts that I would like to write about facilitation later, so this time I would like to write about “Facilitation” instead of “to-be” posts.

1. What is “Facilitation”? – First of all, “mindset” is important!

If you google “facilitation”, you’ll find a lot of them, so let me one link here. Well, I think it’s roughly defined as “a method to smoothly proceed meetings”.

There are various kinds of “meetings”, and I think there are “just information sharing (I wonder if this is really necessary?)”, “1on1” and furthermore. I think there are ways of facilitation that suits each meeting, but this time, I will write with “meeting where multiple people discuss problem solving”, which is important for problem solvers.

One more word about its definition. Personally, I think it’s a “method to smoothly proceed meetings in order to achieve the purpose of meetings“. So, of course, a) the purpose of meetings should be clarified, b) the agenda should be aligned with the purpose, and c) the participants should be selected according to the agenda. Let me skip these preparation stage this time.

And, I personally think that the most important thing in this facilitation is “mindset”.

Specifically, it means “to proactively come up to the front of whiteboard (whiteboard) and pick up the pen“. Recently, I think that online meetings are increasing, and in those cases, it means “to proactively share your screen more and more“.

Once you come to the front and start writing something, it becomes easier for other participants to talk, and they start saying things like “No, that is different” or “Write like this”. They’ll help you out like this. If the situation turns into like this, it’s all right. Some people may think you suddenly mention willpower (laughs), but this is really important. It is difficult to be a facilitator without proactive challenging, but if you proactively challenge, you can be much better facilitator. So, everyone, let’s come to the front!

2. “Facilitation” techniques – “To avoid getting stuck in front of whiteboard”

That said, it’s human nature to actually stand in front of whiteboard and think “What if my head turns white and gets stuck?” or “I don’t want to be embarrassed”. Here are some techniques to prevent those situation from happening.

Anyway, “bullet points”

First of all, let’s “bullet down” more and more what you heard. This alone will make you look better, and once you start writing, everyone will help you a lot, so it should be okay. While writing, if you can say something like “Is this what you’re talking about?” or “Could you say that again?”, now you are the facilitator! 🙂

After all, “framework” is important

As I’ve posted before, it’s important for problem solvers to have different frameworks. It also works great in facilitation. Here are some frameworks that are especially useful for facilitation.

“(1) Divide horizontally”

Separate whiteboard horizontally. The simplest method is the “2 sided method”, which literally divides it horizontally into 2 columns. For example, let’s list up more and more about “good facilitators” and “bad facilitators”! It is something like that. It can be applied in various ways like “Pros” and “Cons”, etc. In this way, meeting participants will find it easier to think when they are shared with discussion structure beforehand.

Image of "2 sided method"
Fig1. Image of “2 sided method”

As variations of this “2 sided method”, whiteboard can also be divided into 3 (eg. 3C – Customer/Competitor/Company) or 4 (eg. 4P – Product/Price/Place/Promotion). In a more advanced variation, it is also possible to discuss by placing business process on the horizontal axis.

Whiteboard image of placing business process on the horizontal axis
Fig2. Whiteboard image of placing business process on the horizontal axis

“(2) Divide vertically“

Now you have reached to advanced version (laughs). After dividing horizontally as above, further divide vertically. Then it becomes a matrix, right? For example, in the previous example of “good facilitator” and “bad facilitator”, we can further classify them by adding “character” and “behavior” to the vertical axis. Among these, it is difficult to change the “character”, but it seems that the “behavior” can be changed. So we can proceed with the discussion by saying ‘let’s talk a little more about “behavior” ‘!

Image of the “2 sided method” further divided vertically
Fig3. Image of the “2 sided method” further divided vertically

Recently, due to the influence of COVID, online meetings have been rapidly established. The above techniques are whiteboard-based, but can be used in online meetings as well. The only difference is that presentation software such as PowerPoint is used instead of whiteboard.

3. How to elicit opinions from meeting participants

The next is how to solicit opinions from participants. If the participants are all willing to give their opinions without saying anything, there is no need to pull them out. But that is rare case, isn’t it? I think you may face a lot of difficult situations. Here are some ways to deal with those difficult situations.

Situation of “everyone becomes silence”

It’s the “silence” that everyone fears (laughs). Well, I don’t think silence is necessarily a bad thing, but let’s put that aside for now. Well, there are two ways to avoid becoming a “silence”. The key is to nominate.

“Nomination in order”

It is literally a method of nominating in order from the end. The advantage of this method is that you can nominate without thinking about anything, so it is easy to do. There is also a sense of fairness. The disadvantage is that once you get used to it, it becomes inertia, so you need to devise things such as occasionally reversing the nomination order.

“Pinpoint nomination”

It’s literally a way to nominate a specific person with pinpoint. The advantage of this method is that if there is a member who is suitable for the question, it can be pinpointed to that person. The downside is that if it is not clear who is the right person for the question, it can be confusing who to nominate. In case of face-to-face meeting, I think you can guess by the atmosphere, but in case of online meeting, I think it will be easier to nominate if you have a list of participating members on hand.

Situation of “noisy members exist”

There are people who can’t stop once they start talking, right (laughs)? It’s fine if it’s logical, but for this type of person, the conversation tends to go to unintended direction. There are two workarounds for this case as well.

“Forcibly jump in”

When “noisy member” starts talking, it is difficult to stop, but there is a chance to stop. Let’s aim for the timing of “breathing” (laughs). When the member stops for a moment, try to change the situation without interrupting (this is very important!) by saying “Thank you very much! Let’s talk about xx next” or something. I don’t think the member will stop with this one shot, but let’s wait for it to settle down while doing it several times. Well, it’s like showing yellow card (laughs).

”Parking Lot”

Many of you may have heard of this. It literally means “parking space”, but we create a space on the whiteboard where we park the opinions of “noisy members” and write them there. Then get out of the situation by saying “This is what you’re saying, isn’t it? Thank you. But I think this is getting off topic a little, so let’s talk about later (laughs). It’s (seemingly) a more polite way than “forcibly jump in”.

Image of Parking Lot
Fig4. Image of Parking Lot

Another important point about facilitation is the concept of “divergence and convergence”, but I would like to write about it later in this blog.

That’s all for this time, and I would like to continue from the next time onwards. Thank you for reading until the end.

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