Ruth helps people communicate better. This includes designing better meetings, redesigning business processes, and solving problems and conflicts that arise within organizations. The word facilitate means “to make it easy”, and that’s why her clients come to her. They have organizational and process issues or they are experiencing conflict within the organization. They want it to be easier and to move forward.
I sit down with Ruth to get an understanding of the importance of Facilitation during conflict and how she helps her clients.
What are the biggest problems that trigger the need for facilitation?
Because we’re often working with other people, focus is the biggest problem I see. We’re listening to respond, and we’re thinking ahead about what we want to say or what our response will be instead of listening. Sometimes what we say and what we intend to say doesn’t match up as well as it could. When we come together in conversation, there’s a purpose for that conversation even if we don’t actually point to it and can explain it. When I’m helping people create a conversation or create a meeting, I have them fill in the blank of this sentence: The purpose of this meeting is to… I want them to fill in that sentence because the more clarity people have about what they need to accomplish with a conversation, the easier that conversation is going to be, and the less we are going to wander all over the place. People get frustrated when they’re trying to have a conversation, and it doesn’t feel like they’ve gotten to the point, or it doesn’t feel like they have come to a resolution. It doesn’t feel like they produced the outcomes they wanted to produce.
How many meetings have you been to where it lasted an hour, maybe two hours, and you think to yourself, we talked a lot but what did we accomplish? If I had to put my work in one word, it would be focus because I can help people identify what they want to accomplish, and then we can work together to figure out how to do that. It sounds simple, but I think people get frustrated in corporate America, in nonprofits, and in government agencies. The statistics on how many hours people spend in meetings and what they think about the productivity of those meetings are really scary. Meetings are often how we get work done. When we have good meetings, the outcome is a better result in less time.
Can you give an example?
Last fall, I was working with the board of directors of a credit union to develop their annual strategic plan. There were about 15 people in a room, and they came from big, high-powered companies. Both board members and staff were there. We went over all of the numbers, productivity statistics, growth opportunities, and strategic program areas from the past year and how they wanted to work on in their business. We spent the morning sharing all that information through a lot of presentations. All that was asking the first question about their business: WHAT? What is it that we need to know?. Then we asked SO WHAT? We looked at what it all meant. What is it we need to understand about all that data, and what does it tell us? What are the implications? What are the trends? Then we asked the action question: NOW WHAT? What are we going to do about it? We structured this one-day planning meeting around those three very simple questions: What? So what? Now what? We talked through them and got down to the implications, the desires, the hopes, and the dreams so that the credit union could do specific things to achieve its goals in the coming year.
The meeting was scheduled to go from 8:00 am until 5:00 pm, but we got out at 2:30 pm. We completed ALL of the work that needed to be done. The board and staff looked at each other, and they said, “We thought we were going to be here until 5 o’clock or maybe a little later. We accomplished our work and a complete board strategic plan in less than a day!”
The next meeting was developing the implementation plan with the staff. Once again, the all-day meeting was scheduled from 8:00 am – 5:00 pm. Once again, we decreased the meeting time and increased the outcome. We got out at 3:30 pm because we were focused, we had a plan, and we got it done. People looked around and said, “You mean we don’t have to be here late?” Not if the work is done! Take it. Run with it. Go be successful.
With focus, you can get more done in a shorter amount of time. Who doesn’t want a shorter meeting?
How do you identify the source of conflict?
We don’t always see where conflict is born or the sources of conflict. Each of us wants to think of ourselves as intelligent, capable and valuable. That’s a good thing.
When we work in an organization, it’s a little bit like being on a sports team. There are all kinds of different positions on a sports team. If you’re a soccer player you have goalkeepers, forwards to score goals, defenders who try to help keep the goals from happening. There are 11 players out there. They each have a different role. If they all play their roles, the team is probably going to be successful. But, if one of the players has the mindset of my position is the most important of all, they can’t live without me, and I should be able to tell everybody how it should be, this attitude creates tension. If I think I’m the most important position, and you think you’re the most important position, and so do the other people on the team, we’ve now created an alpha dog situation. I may be the goalkeeper, and I may be an expert goalkeeper, but you know what? I may not know a whole lot about actually being a forward and scoring goals. (But I know how to stop them!) I call this the Alpha Dog Syndrome where the thinking is: I’m the expert, and you should bow down to my expertise. If you put a bunch of alpha dogs in a room together, you get conflict because each of them thinks they are the only one qualified to lead.