A Vital 360-degree Skill for All Leaders

Role of Facilitation in Client Centric Business Growth

Recently, the Managing Director of a large tech firm in India invited me to their annual strategy session to be an observer.

One of the items on the agenda involved addressing some of the key challenges faced by clients and partners. There were 4 challenges identified, and two of the P&L business leaders were tasked with facilitating two separate but concurrent group discussions on these. Both of them were seasoned industry professionals with 20+ years of experience. For the task at hand, each of them had to facilitate a group of 20+ people, dwell on 2 organizational challenges, brainstorm, and come up with some ideas to overcome them. As they were already running late, the MD gave both teams an hour for a break-out session, after which each leader had to report out. I split my time between both teams and observed the proceedings.

One of the groups started off well but soon went all over the place. They debated a lot on various related issues, daily challenges, client behavior, industry trends, etc., and spent nearly 45 mins on the first topic alone. Realizing this and in exhaustion, they swiftly covered the second topic. The team requested more time and was granted it because even the second team was running late! The leader, on his part, allowed the team to contribute as he was amiable. He noted down all their points on the white board. At times, the team went on tangents, resulting in a few parallel discussions.

While the first team lacked direction and guidance, the second team lacked enthusiasm. Hardly anyone was contributing. Some of them in the group were known to me, so I can say it was unusual. Their white board was nearly empty, except for two or three points. The leader was certainly in command, and he was moving from one person to another, asking them for their points. I got curious because there’s nothing on the board, but people are giving a lot of points. Clearly, something was wrong.

What I found was that the leader would scrutinize each point while involving others in the group, then immediately conclude that there was an issue of adherence, behavior, training, process, etc., thereby instantly providing a resolution. As time passed, hardly anyone opened up. It turned into a pseudo-review. At one point, he realized there was nothing on the board, so he loosened up a bit, but there was no improvement, for everyone had tread safely. Why would anyone take chances with an alpha leader?

I was bewildered. What was meant to engage the team and come up with acceptable solutions turned out to be festered. Later on, the MD expressed his displeasure to his leaders.

Why is Facilitation 360-degree Skill?

Whether you are a fledgling leader or an incumbent, regardless of your level, domain, or sector, facilitation skills are absolutely vital. It impacts many aspects of strategic and daily management. It is needed in situations involving clients and internal colleagues. That is why I consider it a 360-degree skill. Here are a few of those situations where you will need it the most:

  • Regular Meetings and Discussions
  • Conflict resolution between teams and with clients
  • Tough call decisions
  • Project planning and strategic planning
  • Change Management
  • Solution Design
  • Whiteboard discussions
  • Problem-Solving Sessions
  • Crisis Management
  • Innovation and Ideation
  • Customer feedback and focus groups
  • Cross-Functional Collaboration
  • Onboarding and orientation of clients and employees
  • Retreats and team-building events
  • Training and workshops

Imagine a day at work without at least one of these activities. So, literally, you wear the hat of a facilitator every single day.

Role of Facilitation in Client Centric Business Growth

Facilitation skills of the business development team, program managers, account managers, delivery heads, and HODs will enhance client interactions, foster better understanding, and promote client-focused decision-making. This, in turn, can lead to increased client satisfaction and intimacy, loyalty, better client engagement, solid relationships, and business growth such as revenue or profitability increment.

But remember, facilitation is not about dominance, dictatorship, or authoritarian leadership. Nor is it monologues or presentations. It’s also not about avoiding or suppressing conflicts within a group—needless to mention, ignoring group dynamics.

My 5 Simple Tips to Become a Good Facilitator

Here are my 5 simple tips for becoming a good facilitator:

  • Actively listen to what others are saying without interrupting or forming judgments. Pay attention to both the words and the emotions behind them. 
  • Remain neutral and refrain from expressing your personal opinions or biases. 
  • Use open-ended questions to encourage discussion and exploration of ideas.
  • Be attuned to the dynamics within the group. Address conflicts constructively.
  • Use a structured approach to guide discussions. Use techniques like summarizing key points, capturing action items, and managing time effectively.

If you are interested in learning more about facilitation frameworks, you can check out the following: (Just google)

  • The P.A.U.S.E. Model, developed by Richard Beach, emphasizes the importance of patience, attention, understanding, support, and empathy in the facilitation process. It is particularly useful in conflict resolution and addressing sensitive issues.
  • The Agile Retrospective Framework, which is widely used in Agile development, is about allowing teams to reflect on their performance and identify opportunities for improvement.

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