Only years after founding LoCo Think Tank did I attempt to define the foundations of the business model. My interactions with business members of Vistage and other peer advisory group models, and later membership in a Trusted Advisors chapter of Vistage, convinced me of the extraordinary power of peer learning. Likewise, my involvement in Rotary Club - where our motto is Service Above Self - was an obvious element. The third foundational element actually preceded the others in time - my role as a Discussion Leader within an organization called Bible Study Fellowship when my wife and I lived in Colorado Springs. Though over 30 at the time, I was new to matters of faith, and when invited to the role I protested that I didn’t know very much about the Bible. The response - you don’t need to! My mentor (and recruiter) shared that the role calls for a facilitator, not a teacher, and the duties required only that I maintain order in the conversation, and ask good questions, bring out the quieter participants, and seek truth alongside the others. And, they would train me for it! I served in the role for two seasons, until we moved back to Fort Collins, and it was one of the greatest periods of growth for me as a leader and a learner in my life.
Our LoCo Facilitators are veteran business owners who’ve achieved great successes and have valuable insights to share. But like my role at Bible Study Fellowship, they are facilitators and not teachers. What does it mean to be a facilitator, and how does one become skilled in it?
By definition, facilitation is the act of making an action or process easy or easier. OK...so what does that mean? At LoCo, this means providing an effective meeting structure, with members finding learning and perspective and accountability around their business decisions. So how does one do that?
The International Association of Facilitators (IAF) lists six core competencies that a professional facilitator must exhibit in order to run effective meetings in a wide variety of environments. These competencies are highly related to what LoCo Think Tank facilitators are doing in their role.
Create Collaborative Client Relationships - LoCo builds business groups with an intentional diversity of background and special talents, and our chapters have developed a culture of openness and mutual respect. We bring many deep skills to the table, and often over a hundred years of experience and we ask members to share their learnings with the group.
Plan Appropriate Group Processes - We provide the LoCo Facilitators (and members) with a variety of forms and standardized templates, and hold quarterly Facilitators Forums where our facilitators can share best practices and lessons with one another, and enjoy a facilitated meeting themselves.
Create and Sustain a Participatory Environment - One thing that everyone has in common - they’re different than everybody else! One of the key reasons to have a professionally facilitated meeting is to help to hold back the chatterbox and draw out the introvert’s often super-insightful comments. The facilitator acts as a minder of sorts, helping all voices to be heard and allowing the conversation to flow toward important truths.
Guide Group to Appropriate and Useful Outcomes - The LoCo Facilitators have been there and done that - they are business veterans! Therefore, they are privy to the necessary steps in building a successful business enterprise. And, though times and technologies change, their experience in navigation of a successful journey is a vital part in our members plotting their own courses.
Build and Maintain Professional Knowledge - This is one of the reasons the our LoCo Facilitators sign up with us - they are lifelong learners! The facilitators learn from speakers alongside the members, and learn from the members themselves. One thing that stays the same about business is it is always changing, and this engagement allows our facilitators ample opportunity to grow themselves as a leader and community member while serving.
Model Positive Professional Attitude - While we may not enforce a strict dress code or follow Robert’s Rules of Order in our meetings, one thing that is consistent about our chapters is an environment of respect an expectation for continuous growth. You are here to work on your business, and to work on yourself as the leader of the business.
So there you have it - the characteristics and competencies of a great meeting facilitator. If you’ve got a big, tough topic in your organization, consider bringing in a pro for your next retreat or senior managers meeting - you’ll be surprised at how much more effective it can be. The facilitator doesn’t need to know all the answers - in fact it’s often better if the group finds the answers for themselves. They will have more buy-in and conviction behind their pursuit of the solutions, and your role as a leader will be more about empowering the pursuit than in convincing your staff of the rightness of your proscribed path.