When people think of facilitation, they often imagine a person at the front of the room with flip chart paper and markers who keeps them on track and moves them through an agenda. While this is indeed what facilitation often looks like, it is actually a much more complex and broader tool than just this. Facilitation is the practice of making things easier. Facilitation helps people do their best thinking together with greater efficiency, clarity, and confidence in their outcomes.
We have all heard the adage from Charles Kettering, “If you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it” yet we find that committees and meetings are still the way we do business. In spite of our frustrations and the inefficiencies of many meetings, working together is a necessary component of living and working in a social society. Given this, the need for skilled facilitation is paramount! Why waste time in an unproductive meeting when a small investment in services from a professional facilitator could yield such high returns?
Facilitation with Carrie Bennett
Carrie’s experience in facilitation includes working with schools, school districts, nonprofits, small businesses, labor unions, and city government. She is continually amazed at the potential groups have to do outstanding work, given just a little bit of structure and guidance for how to best talk through issues and make decisions. In contract to Kettering’s view, teams Carrie works with not only breathe life and energy into ideas, they create new ones and put the best ones into action.
When Carrie first begins working with a group, she meet with team leaders to identify their key objectives and crafting an agenda to match. Yes, this means that she facilitate the meetings that help prepare for meetings she will later facilitate. It would be Kettering’s nightmare if it weren’t so productive, efficient and fun. Once this small “design team” agrees on our purpose and a basic agenda, Carrie shares this draft agenda with participants and ask for feedback. This ensures that they are indeed addressing the team’s highest priorities. It also gives them advanced notice, which helps them come prepared (logistically, mentally, and psychologically) for the work ahead. In this, we see that much of the real work of facilitation begins long before people even show up for a meeting. With clarity, shared purpose, and advance notice groups start out on the right foot and are able to make meaningful progress quickly.
Once a meeting (or series of them) begins, Carrie works as a neutral outsider. With this role, she creates space for all voices and work to balance power and participation among all group members. When Carrie facilitate meetings for teams, she “holds the space” for individuals to engage in difficult conversations and reach their desired objectives. This means she asks a lot of questions, listens intently, encourages others to listen deeply, and captures/records information for the group. Carrie carefully monitors the group and watches for when they have reached a decision-point and when an issue needs more discussion. When conversations get difficult, as they often do, Carrie create safety and help moderate emotions. Strong feelings are tied with the passion people feel for their work. In many circumstances, emotions have the potential to derail teams and damage relationships. With a skilled facilitator, however, these emotions can lead to invaluable information and lead to better shared understanding and fuel for efforts in the future.
What if There’s Conflict?
In these situations (and they are natural!), Carrie keeps her mediation skills close at hand. While mediation and facilitation are indeed different tools, they work best in tandem with one another. Imagine a flat head and Phillips head screwdriver. They look similar and both can get a job done but you need to choose the right one to match the screw you’re working with. Sometimes teams aren’t consciously aware of all the aspects of their challenges so it’s wise to show up to work with both tools in tow. Teams that start out just asking for facilitation, inevitably run into conflict in one form or another. At these times, Carrie seamlessly brings out her mediation tool-box so the conversations can continue uninterrupted.
Throughout all of her facilitation work, Carrie balances keen focus on the team’s objectives and agenda with creative flexibility. Sometimes, following an agenda is like following a recipe. Everything falls neatly into place in an expected order and with expected outcomes. Carrie gently brings people back to the topic at hand when they wander and manages the many “bunny trails” of off topic concerns that often arise. This helps the group stay focused on their shared purpose and make meaningful progress towards their goals. At other times, groups find that they didn’t necessarily know what they didn’t know before they started the meeting and need to change course. When this happens, when it becomes very clear that the conversation that most needs to happen isn’t on the official agenda, Carrie works with the team to revise the agenda on the spot. In doing so, she helps groups track and make plans for the originally planned agenda topics but then jumps in to address the new issues. Balancing these two needs, staying on track with an agenda and a willingness to abandon an agenda to address newly-discovered priorities, lies at the heart of the artful practice of facilitation. Carrie prides herself in her receptivity to a group’s real needs and her ability to balance these two demands.
Geography and Logistics
Carrie calls Fort Collins, Colorado home but she travels broadly to provide facilitation and mediation services. Travel throughout the Denver Metro Area and the Front Range can easily be accommodated. Further afield, Carrie loves Colorado’s more rural and far-flung communities. She spent many of her favorite years on the Western Slope and maintains numerous friendships there. Given this, Carrie is committed to serving communities well beyond the Denver Metro Area.
Beyond Colorado, Carrie frequently provides facilitation and mediation services in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. She lived in Corvallis, Oregon for five years, attended graduate school at the University of Oregon in Eugene, and makes regular trips back to the Willamette Valley for both work and pleasure.
To find out if Carrie is available to travel to work with you, please contact us! Carrie would be happy to have a free, no obligation phone call or email exchange to learn more about your needs and how she might be able to help. You have nothing to lose but the time you will spend in yet another poorly run meeting.