Tips for facilitating a group in leading change

Dear Joan:

I just read one of your articles on Workplace Conflict. This article seems to be addressing misbehaviors at work, which of course need Human Resources, and policies and procedures to resolve.  

There is another form of conflict to be considered - that being ordinary daily disagreements among workers about process and how to improve or change how things are done/should be done. This can be even more frustrating.  

This group leader needs process education in how to run a meeting, to understand the personalities and the politics of the place, and have the powers of gentle persuasion to move the group along. This type of conflict management is harder to handle than the first and tempers the "culture" of the organization. It's the difference between being a referee and a leader. Perhaps you could address this topic in one of your articles. 

Answer:

Facilitating a group, such as a department meeting or a cross functional team which doesn’t report to you, and influencing them to take action is one of the most challenging tasks of any leader. I think it’s where the phrase “herding cats” comes from.  

It’s no surprise that conflicts erupt when a leader unskilled at facilitation is at the helm. If the leader knows how to run a meeting and some of the basics of change management, most conflicts are averted before they begin.  

Here’s a quick primer for the leader of such a group: 

  • Before taking the job of team leader, meet with key stakeholders to determine the desired outcome, the scope of authority and the criteria for success that will be used to measure the outcome. Make sure the right people are on the team and there is an executive sponsor, so that there is a connection to senior management, should that become necessary.  
  • Spend the first meeting(s) thoroughly exploring why the group is meeting, exactly what they are to accomplish, what authority they have, why they were invited, what is expected of each of them, and set up a reasonable timeline for results. Don’t move forward until these things are resolved and people are aligned. 
  • With the group, develop ground rules that the group will use to guide the personal responsibilities and dynamics. For instance, what happens if someone can’t attend a meeting? Should they send someone in their place, or take responsibility for getting copies of the minutes? Ground rules such as “Silence is agreement” or “Disagree in private, united in public,” will help to prevent problems later. 
  • Outline the process steps at the beginning of each meeting that the group can use to come to a final product. Allow for plenty of active participation and encourage honest debate by drawing out “devil’s advocate” comments or listing “pros and cons.”  
  • At the end of every meeting, restate and get commitment to the action plan. Tack it down with who will do what, by when. Then check on it at the start of each subsequent meeting. 
  • Keep key stakeholders informed and test next steps and possible outcomes long before you are ready to role out the completed work as a group. 
  • Invite additional participants as the group needs them. It’s better to get involvement along the way to build commitment, rather than do the work behind closed doors, then announce it to the people who will be affected by it.  
  • Keep the group on track by constantly regrouping and restating the goals and by summarizing progress. 
  • Don’t allow disrespectful comments or other dysfunctional behavior. Once a group sees that you’ve lost control, they will hold back and lose momentum toward the outcome. They need to feel certain that they are in a safe environment, where their ideas will be listened to and everyone is treated equally. 
  • Periodically ask the participants for an evaluation of how the meetings are going. Asking at the end of the meeting, “What did you think was effective and what could we do better?” will help them continue to improve.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 354-9500, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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