We’ve all been at meetings, or in an innovation facilitation, in which we couldn’t wait for someone to stop talking. Some may say that in an innovation facilitation session any contribution to the discussion is helpful. But what happens if you are the one facilitating the meeting?
3 lessons I learned the hard way, during an innovation facilitation
As an innovation facilitator for more than 20 years, I put forth considerable effort to give each participant the chance to express herself/himself throughout the discussion. Sometimes, though, there is a pressing need to achieve quick results, and hearing out the ramblings of someone who is thinking out loud or the lengthy suggestion of a participant whose opinion doesn’t really count much in the organization, doesn’t seem to be the best use of the team’s time.
Still, from an ethical point of view, each voice is valuable, and practically speaking, it is often the reticent engineer from R&D or the shy lawyer from Legal who throw in the comment that swings the entire discussion towards a new and fruitful direction.
Given the compelling arguments – both moral and practical – I tend to monitor discussions attentively to ensure everybody gets a fair chance to contribute, regardless of their ability to wrestle for air time. Imagine my surprise then, when I learned that within a single month, I managed to offend two participants, in two separate workshops, who both felt I had deliberately avoided allowing them the opportunity to contribute to the innovation facilitation discussion.
In the first case, the participant actually got up and left the room. Although a somewhat dramatic and unpleasant moment ensued, it thankfully indicated that I had a serious problem, which I was able to deal with in the next break.
In the other case, I only learned about my mistake in the evening, from the process owners to whom my victim had complained. Luckily, we had an additional workshop session the next day, which allowed me to have a clearing-the-air conversation the next morning, before the workshop started. This, however, raised a nagging thought: I wondered how many other offended participants I had left behind throughout my 22 years of facilitation, without even noticing or discovering it, even after the fact.
My immediate learnings from these two traumatic experiences:
As an innovation facilitator, you have a commitment to the process owners: achieve results! But you also have a contract with the participants: honoring the time and brain power they have put in your hands. They must all be given a chance to express themselves.
- Don’t assume that verbose participants in an innovation facilitation are necessarily content with their allotted time. They might not understand your “global” fair-time-allocation considerations. He may have talked more than his share already, but he has a great idea now that he wants to communicate, and therefore no patience to hear what lesser minds wish to offer.
2. Use break times and facilitation cues to manage both reticent and vocal participants.
Read about the innovation facilitation session in which I offended my best participant on racist grounds (or not?), and some tips on how to manage the balance between participants’ motivation to speak and their potential contribution to the discussion.