Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Yes that’s how important planning is. You could say if ‘doing’ a task is 10%, 90% of it is ‘planning’.
Facilitation planning is no exception to it. Every efficacious facilitation is based on a solid planning and preparation. To me planning for a facilitation event is really about 4 O’s: the objective where we set the goals, the outline where we design the structure of the event, the orchestration where we plan the logistics and resources, and finally the outcome where we measure the learning from the session.
Here’s my take on how you play around with goal setting, program designing, logistics and closure to come up with an effective end to end plan for a facilitation event.
Visibility into the end of a facilitation is the beginning of any facilitation planning process. That is to say asking ‘what does the meeting want to accomplish?’ is where fundamentally every Facilitation planning begins.
Answering this question involves the facilitator, the client and even the participants apart from a thorough glance on all the relevant documents. While talking to the clients a facilitator should ensure the following points have been clarified: What does the client hope to achieve at the conclusion of the event, products to be completed, decisions to be made or issues to be addressed?
Many a times gathering viewpoints of group members through interviews are helpful in terms of:
- Understanding the context of the meeting especially on crucial issues
- Group’s desired objective
- Facilitator’s familiarization with group members through one on one interaction even before the meeting starts
A very important part of objective setting is also expectation setting. Ensure that the client is aware of the role that a facilitator plays in achieving the desired outcomes: role in planning phase, facilitation style appropriate for the event, intervention in the subject of the meeting etc.
These exercises help in setting objectives that are realistic and measurable. It helps in setting the expectations right and avoiding any kind of discrepancy later about the effectiveness of the facilitation program.
Here’s where your creativity is put to test – outlining the structure of the program. Right from the power start, the number of icebreakers, group activities and games to the frequency of breaks – all of it goes into deciding the effectiveness of your session, especially in terms of keeping the group involved and engaged so as to ensure maximum learning.
Outlining the course starts with the knowledge about the number of attendees, subject matter (at least knowing what it is), the background of the participants, and the time allotted for the event.
There are plenty of facilitation techniques that can be deployed for developing program structure like brainstorming, role playing, informal debate, mode of discussion whether organized or open ended among others.
A very important part of planning the structure of the meeting is designing how participants will get acclimatized to the group or with each other in the group. A well thought out activity to help members recognize the special quality of the other, confidence building, accountability for self learning and fun; is instrumental in better aligning the group with the meeting objective.
Here the facilitator gets into tactical mode with clear vision of how to orchestrate logistics and resources effectively. For instance while delving on aspects like deciding the venue, the facilitator must work closely with the event organizer to decide the location that will be convenient for the participants, availability of adequate facility to ensure comfort for the participants and so forth.
If there are resources to help the facilitator during the session, the delegation of task is a major chunk of planning. Each member should be aware of his/her role – who is the note-taker, timekeeper, presenter, or a tone-setter, unless it is the facilitator who does it all.
Meticulous planning of the visual aides to be used helps in avoiding last minute glitches. It starts with carefully choosing the visual aides which will enhance the effectiveness of the presentation, setting up and testing all the support systems like audios, videos, power supply etc.
Setting ground rules of the session, the do’s and don’ts help in preventing the discussion from going berserk. This includes the time allotted for members to speak, complete their group activities, the kind of language that is to be avoided, desired behavior of the members etc.
Planning for the closing or ways to measure outcome of the meeting is as important as goal setting. While the former tells you whether you know where to go, the latter indicates if you have effectively arrived where you intended to be. In other words, designing an effective closure of a facilitation event helps you gauge whether the participants have achieved the desired outcome of the meeting. It also helps in getting a visibility into the next action plan, or activities to be undertaken post the facilitation meeting.
Some of the essential yardsticks to measure the effectiveness of a meeting are:
- Getting a glimpse into the overall experience and learning of the participants
- Getting each participant to share their proposed solution of the issue that the meeting was intending to address and see whether this is within the ambit of the process that the facilitation meeting followed
- Charting out ‘what next’ in terms of the follow up actions after the session
- Tactical post session planning like the handouts to be given to participants, sharing of the presentation or important videos, deciding any follow up meetings etc.
Many might ask what about flexibility? In my experience the better prepared you are, the more flexible are you to accommodate surprises. You know exactly what to expect in which stage of the meeting and hence you can also calculate where exactly can you fit in an unexpected instance if need be.
So next time you have a 2 days facilitation event, ensure you are spending two weeks in sharpening your axe in terms of keeping your planning focus on objective of the event, outline of the course, orchestration or logistics and outcome of the meeting.