Facilitation Friday #11: Who Should Your Facilitation Serve?

Who should your facilitation serve?

In other words, who is your client? Is it the people in the meeting or on the call you are facilitating?  The organization that pays your salary? The individuals who evaluate your efforts? The people who buy your products? The colleagues who often determine your success? Are you a client of your own efforts? What about the community (world) impacted by your organization and its products and services? And don't forget honoring the shared agreements or norms the group has created and the originally stated purpose and process for the facilitated effort.

Imagine how conversations might shift and decisions might differ if we expand our notion of who our clients are. The depth of the client relationship can be represented like rings of a bullseye. The direct recipients of our facilitation efforts would be closest to the center with an ever-increasing set of stakeholders added as we move to the perimeter.  This expanded notion of whom we serve with our facilitation efforts is important because ultimately the people we are facilitating in real-time are going to engage in efforts that affect others.  How might those affected rate our facilitation efforts?  If the people you facilitate like you as a facilitator, but ultimately, don't deliver on what their members or customers need, will your efforts really be a success?

When I facilitate or consult, I think of this often. It can be tempting to think of the CEO or main client contact as the ultimate arbiter of my success. Yet that choice would cause me to disregard (or at least attend to less) the other participants in the meeting, the other members of the organization, and the ultimate consumers of the organization’s products and services. Ultimately, I don't need the main contact person to like me, nor should I allow myself to serve what might be his/her exclusive agenda. Doing either inhibits my ability to assist the participants in building their capacity to work together effectively and honor the mission, vision, and values of their organization.

Similarly, while having our colleagues at work like us is certainly desirable, we cannot allow this to become our single-minded pursuit when we contribute internal facilitation to projects. Those with whom we work are not the ultimate clients we serve. We need respectful relationships with each other, ones that allow us to serve the true clients. But our decisions should reflect a greater imperative to satisfy our members, customers, and stakeholders even if doing so might challenge how we interact with our colleagues, our internal customers. When the decisions become "all about us," we have lost sight of our privilege to serve.

By broadening the notion of who we are called to serve, we increase the inclusiveness of our thinking. With more stakeholders under consideration, our opportunities to serve and create meaningful interactions expand almost exponentially. We are less likely to make decisions that negatively affect others and more likely to make decisions respectful of those who will be affected by them. So when you think of the people to whom you are accountable as a facilitator, you must be able to count more than just the ones who meet the eye.

Next week: Deciding when to intervene as a facilitator.

Every Friday in 2012, I shared information and insights about effective facilitation, sharing some of the content and thinking I provide in the one-day and half-day facilitation workshops that groups often engage me to present.  You can find previous posts by searching for the tag: facilitationfriday.

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