Facilitating partnership working meetings and network consultations can be a real challenge. This blog post by Phill Butler of visionSynergy discusses the use of listening teams as a network facilitation practice that can greatly increase a facilitator’s effectiveness and result in a better outcome for the meeting.
The Facilitator’s Challenge
Partnership consultations or network meetings present a real communications and facilitation challenge for the facilitator and the participants. Facilitators often struggle with how to increase a sense of trust, develop consensus, encourage camaraderie, and see practical, high-value outcomes. Participants, meanwhile, want to participate and engage in the process and be heard.
However even with the most meticulous preparation by the facilitator, the face-to-face meeting of potential or active partners is predictably a rather intense time — particularly for the facilitator — as they must:
- Understand the history of relationships and how those play out in the meeting
- Grasp of the complexity of the issues being considered
- Keep the end goal or purpose of the meeting in mind
- Facilitate the process of individual ideas becoming consensus, and
- Ensure a practical action plan is put into place.
That is a lot to think about and keep track of! And, the longer your working meeting the more these issues are compounded!
You may already have had some type of advisory group leading up to the meeting. But it is critically important for participants to know that what is being done and how it is being done is not just your idea and that they are not expected to simply follow your leadership. To avoid this perception and to see better outcomes with lasting results, here is a meeting facilitation practice that has proven invaluable.
Listening teams are a small group of participants with whom you are acquainted. The listening team members may or may not be from your advisory team. They often come from varied backgrounds and may hold various ideas. They should reflect a cross-section of the participants in the room. Ideally, they are “well known” and already have the group’s respect. The purpose of this team is to provide additional channels for participants’ concerns, issues, and questions to be raised and heard. It also distributes the conversations and reduces the load on the facilitator as the center of the conversation.
This approach does several things:
- Extends your ‘eyes and ears’.
- Shares the burden of hearing what the participants and God are saying.
- Says that you welcome feedback and actively encourage it.
- Gives you a team who can help you and the network work through tough issues and discussions.
- Increases your personal credibility as it’s clear that you are listing to the wider group.
- Raises your confidence as to what is “really going on” in the meeting.
- Models the kind of values important to the network or partnership.
- Sets a tone and precedent for the next stages in the life of the partnership or network.
Forming Your Listening Team
- Invite a cross-section of respected leaders to be part of your listening team.
- Keep the team small in size. Smaller events require 1 – 2 listeners. For larger events keep it to 3 – 4 listeners.
- Meet before the event to discuss the responsibilities of the role.
- Set regular times to meet such as mornings before the event starts, at lunch, breaks, or after dinner.
- At the beginning, as part of the agenda review, introduce these people as the meetings’ ‘Listening Team’.
- Let participants know this team will be meeting twice daily and are the ones to talk with if participants have ideas or issues which they prefer not to raise in open session.
Tips for Working with Your Listening Team
- Pray together every day and acknowledge that this effort is a God-sized work dependent on Him!
- Make sure that you, as the facilitator, meet consistently with this group, say around lunch, during afternoon break or possibly before heading to bed.
- Allow their feedback and input to shape the day’s work.
- Ask them to make themselves available to other participants and to focus on asking questions and listening carefully.
- Alert them to any specific concerns or issues you want their feedback on.
- Make sure that as you get feedback from the Listening Team that their input is fed back to the wider group – except where sensitive issues call for a more
private communication. Participants need to know that when they speak, you listen.
An added benefit is that some of those in your Listening Team, due to their visibility and engagement, may become part of any on-going working or wider facilitation team — carrying the vision forward.
Listening teams provide an opportunity to model collaboration and build the kind of engagement, listening, and trust that is crucial for a network to be effective. This in turn will lead to stronger outcomes!