Hire A Facilitator to Increase Team Engagement

Teams are everywhere in business today. When managed well, teams can increase quality, innovation, productivity, employee commitment, creativity and bottom line results. When teams are managed poorly, however, morale and commitment can deteriorate, resulting in frustration and deadlock.

One way to improve how your team functions is to use an outside facilitator. A facilitator’s role is to improve how the team identifies challenges, solves complex problems and ultimately makes decisions. Facilitators help teams clarify their scope, goals, task roles and action plans — resulting in faster and better decision-making.

Everyone’s unique perspective and input on a team is valuable — it’s this diversity that makes teams so powerful (bringing the best minds together to address complex situations). Yet one of the great challenges managing teams is dealing with all those varying points of view. Facilitators add structure and process to foster maximum input and engagement of team members while still helping teams end meetings with members clear about “who will do what by when.” Team members are naturally more committed and buy into decisions in which their input was heard and considered. They are also more satisfied leaving meetings knowing what they are responsible for. Meetings that are well facilitated are typically energizing, vs. boring or frustrating.

Here are some common challenges that facilitators can help teams overcome:

  • Long meetings with few (or no) actionable decisions or outcomes.
  • Lack of engagement, contribution or accountability.
  • Inability to effectively review divergent viewpoints.
  • Pressure to conform to dominant members’ ideas.
  • Ineffective or dysfunctional conflict patterns.
  • Surfacing “stuck” team issues (often long underground).
  • Unclear roles, task expectations and goals/objectives.

Effective facilitators do not participate as a “member” or “manager” of the work team. In contrast, they are an impartial, neutral resource, without an agenda. In fact, team facilitators should have no decision-making power or authority over the team — it’s from this nonthreatening “outside” position that they can help the team facilitate productive change.

There is science and art behind good facilitation. Facilitators help teams learn and follow effective group process. Skilled facilitators have a unique lens and can help a team see the “forest through the trees.” They often help teams identify alternatives to their traditional (and frequently ineffective) patterns.

What do facilitators do?

  • They help the team build (and frequently rebuild) the structure for effective team process.
  • They help teams establish their own “rules of conduct/ engagement” (ground rules for issues such as electronic interruptions, handling disagreements, etc.).
  • They provide a process to foster a climate for maximum participation and engagement — including helping the team listen effectively and acknowledge others’ viewpoints.
  • They help the team learn how to engage in healthy, creative debate.
  • They help keep the team on track and deal with “disruptive” behaviors. They know when and how to intervene and redirect on behaviors that hinder team performance.
  • They have tools to guide teams through solid discovery, planning, problem-solving and decision-making processes.
  • They promote accountability and follow-through.

Facilitators are also called in when teams have reached a point of total ineffectiveness — or worse. In these cases, facilitators can bring safety to a team in which emotions are running high. Skilled facilitators can help team members communicate their emotions in ways that contribute to the group’s effectiveness vs. harm it. Teams that can work through these tough situations often come out on the other side more bonded and better equipped to deal with future sticky situations.

Effective facilitators often bring value to even the best-run teams. A fresh set of eyes, ears, perspective and solid team development skills can help teams achieve an even higher level of performance.  I can help!  mmoriarty@pathtochange.com or 360 682 5807.


Team Development

Simply throwing people together and asking them to operate as a team doesn’t guarantee success. There is a difference between a group of people who work together and those who work effectively as a team. A big difference. High-performing teams, though rare, are a tremendous competitive advantage. Developing them is frequently cited as the No. 1 challenge of leaders.

As an organizational consultant, I am often asked to help teams that are “stuck” or not meeting their potential. I identify team challenges and opportunities and help them increase collaboration and performance. While there are many factors that affect team performance, these are some that guide my work with teams:

  • Trust. This is critical to all great teams (and organizations). Team synergy, innovation, risk-taking and constructive challenge can’t happen without trust. It allows highly driven individuals to embrace difference and conflict and to challenge the status quo in a positive, powerful way. Without trust, teams get bogged down trying to deal with dysfunctional behaviors, including low team “EQ,” or emotional intelligence, “misrepresentations” and personal egos, insecurities and agendas. People who don’t feel safe will naturally hold back questions, opinions and ideas — any of which could be vital to the team’s success.
  • Clarity in purpose, goals/objectives, roles, responsibilities and expectations. Members of high-performing teams are clear about their target — what they are working together to achieve and their individual responsibilities to help the team get there. Without clarity and purpose people are reluctant to genuinely engage, and become complacent. Most professionals are energized by compelling and challenging goals. If your team has no sense of urgency, odds are it isn’t functioning at a high level.

Frustrated teams often include those who “don’t see the point” or can’t agree “who is on first and who is on second,” which often leads to ugly turf wars. This is usually the result of unclear task and role responsibility. Team leaders need to make sure everyone is clear about their responsibility in achieving the goal and why their contribution is important.

  • The necessary skills/ resources/protection to meet objectives. Teams that face large skill gaps or resource requirements relative to their objectives are doomed to fail. Wise team leaders selectively fit members into appropriate roles based on the individual’s skills, experience, motivation and talent.

To be successful, most workplace teams require a combination of leadership, technical, interpersonal, problem-solving, decisionmaking and teamwork skills. Team leaders need to support the resource needs of the team, leveraging individual skills and providing the protection needed for team success.

  • Healthy conflict. Conflict can result in creativity, learning and better solutions to today’s complex and ever-changing workplace problems. High-performing teams foster an environment that supports open, healthy debate around ideas and different perspectives. In these teams, disagreements are not suppressed, reasons are carefully examined, members feel safe to speak their truth and give each other constructive feedback.

In contrast, dysfunctional teams are hindered by indirect, disguised and guarded discussions. In these teams, conflict is either avoided (usually due to fear of retaliation or hurting others feelings) or dealt with destructively (hostility, passive aggression, finger pointing, shooting the messenger or scapegoating). No one enjoys being a part of this game.

  • Clear decision-making. High-performing teams are clear about how and when decisions will be made and who has the authority to make them. In these teams, members believe their opinion is valued — and that it has the potential to affect the decision under consideration. In contrast, members of dysfunctional teams often leave team meetings without anyone considering their ideas or unclear if a decision was made.
  • Accountability. In high-performing teams, members hold each other accountable and share the rewards of victory and pain of defeat. Individual expectations and commitments to support team objectives are clear and realistic. These teams focus on and measure performance and establish feedback mechanisms that clearly identify achievements and shortfalls.

In dysfunctional teams, mediocrity or nonperformance is tolerated and ultimately establishes itself as the norm. Different “rules” apply to different members. This lack of accountability frustrates performers and creates a team environment of inequity and disappointment. Sadly, many workplace teams place a value on harmony over truth, accountability and what is best for the business — and expend great effort and resources to avoid difficult challenges.

  • Finding ways to work better together. The best teams regularly examine their working process. They evaluate and renegotiate what needs to improve. They “debrief” after projects to identify what went well and what could be improved.

Reward and recognize. Great teams take time to celebrate and share in their achievements and successes.  I offer coaching (anywhere in the world) and team facilitation help:  mmoriarty@pathtochange.com or 360 682 5807.

Keeping Your Workplace Team on Track

Most team leaders understand that focus, participation, action planning and commitment are important for team success — and find managing the “process” challenging. Two common challenges are 1) keeping the team on track and 2) generating commitment toward achieving the goal.

Teams are often a group of diverse individuals (with a wide variety of opinions and viewpoints). It takes sound planning, structure and an effective process to foster team commitment to a shared vision and accomplish results. There are many methods that can help, but here are a few to consider.

Warm-up: Icebreakers can be helpful to “warm” the team. They often promote team-building, trust, rapport and familiarity with each other — some encourage creativity and “out-of-the-box” thinking. There are hundreds of icebreaker ideas to choose from; the most effective provide the team with insight into each other and those that promote shared laughter and fun.

Creative idea generation: Brainstorming is a group technique to generate a large number of ideas and/or potential solutions to a problem. Unfortunately, most team leaders don’t lead brainstorming sessions in a way that maximizes the creative synergy or potential of the team. There are a number of “dos and don’ts” for effective brainstorming. A few guidelines:

  • Brainstorm at the beginning of meetings (preferably in the morning) when people are fresh.
  • Go for quantity — record all ideas (on a flip chart or whiteboard).
  • Encourage creativity and fun (laughter aids participation) — even wild and crazy ideas can generate a winning formula.
  • Encourage people to build on the ideas of others.
  • Allow plenty of time.
  • While the team is brainstorming, do not allow anyone to use this time to criticize, reject, ridicule or evaluate ideas (no speeches, pontifications or arguments). Suspending judgment during this time allows participants to freely generate unusual ideas and “out-of-the-box” thinking.

Visuals help support clarity and creativity. “Mind mapping” is another technique that promotes creative problem solving via the use of nonlinear visual diagrams. In this exercise participants put up “branches” of words, ideas or tasks around a central issue or subject (represented by a circle at the center). Some teams use mind mapping to problem solve using each “branch” to represent who, what, when, why and how.

Refinement and consolidation: Once the team has collectively generated new creative ideas, the team often needs to decide (unless the leader is deciding) which idea is the best solution. There are a number of processes that can help — here are a few:

  • Establishing evaluation criteria. It’s a good idea for the team to generate criteria to judge which ideas best solve the problem — examples: “should be cost effective” or “should be able to complete by our target date.” Consider establishing a scale (0 to 5) to determine how each idea best meets the criteria.
  • Narrowing the list. Again, there are many methods for teams to prioritize and make decisions. If the idea list is long, it may be helpful to let the team “group” related or similar ideas and generate a heading idea that captures the essence of those that are similar. Another useful technique to narrow a list is called “dot voting.” It’s a simple and quick way to give everyone votes and flush out what the majority of the team wants. Each member gets a set number of color-coded dots to “vote” on their favorite ideas.

Evaluating strategies: A valuable technique to further examine upcoming change, decisions and strategies is a “Force-Field Analysis” (developed by Kurt Lewin in 1947). Using this method, teams chart two important forces — what is working toward the desired state (helpful forces in the team’s favor, such as new markets, products, technologies or other resources) and those working against it (restraining forces such as competitors, lack of resources, organizational apathy, etc.). This method helps teams visualize, understand and make clear all the forces acting on an issue. Using this technique can provide a team with new insights in the assessment of potential strategies.

The plan to move forward: Without action there are no results. Promote accountability with action plans that make clear to the team “who will do what by when.” What gets measured and tracked is often what gets done!

I can help: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com or 360 682 5807.