• J.D. Solomon

Fabulous Facilitation: Are You Prepared to Work Through Disruption?


Facilitator frustrated by disruptive behavior of two participants.
Effective Facilitation Anticipates Disruption

I knew not to ask the question. I was almost certain I had heard the exchange correctly. I asked anyway, "Jim, I am not sure I understood you. Can you clarify that?"


"I said Ray is a dick," blurted Jim at a tone that all 30 people in the room clearly understood. "He knows he is. He thinks he is being funny, but he’s not.”


So much for allowing Jim the opportunity to walk it back. Now, as the lead facilitator of a public decision-making group of twenty, I had to get things back on track. There was a deafening silence, only broken by a few smirks. Most of the group looked horrified.


Anticipate Disruption

Disruption is a reality. Disruption will occur. Great facilitators embrace the reality of disruption and are prepared to move through it.


Powerful questions anticipate disruption, in part, by seeking to minimize misunderstanding. Pre-session exchange also assists in anticipating disruption by helping the facilitator to understand participant hot buttons. And exercises that engage also support anticipating disruption by efficiently keeping participants focused on common activities rather than individual differences.


Nevertheless, in-session disruption will occur.


Senior Facilitation Advisory Team

One technique for minimizing disruption is establishing a senior facilitation advisory team at the beginning of any facilitated session. Normally this can simply consist of the facilitator, an executive sponsor, and the meeting secretary (note taker). During breaks or between sessions, this team can collaborate on the disruptive issue and seek to promptly move through the disruptive issue, where appropriate, or speak to a disruptive participant. Good facilitators have their parking lots and breaks; additionally, great facilitators have methods to quickly resolve disruptive issues beyond the parking lot and beyond taking a cool-down break.


Leverage Participants with Facilitation Experience

Another technique is to leverage other facilitators that are in the room. These other facilitators are not formal facilitators but rather session participants who also have facilitation experience. Great facilitators use every resource at their disposal, whether those resources serve in an official or an unofficial capacity.


The most obvious way to learn if participants have facilitation experience is to ask them in the pre-session exchange that every great facilitator has with session participants. Start building rapport. Start building trust. Ask for advice. Do not hesitate to develop a strategy for getting discrete assistance when session disruption occurs.


Another way to learn which participants have facilitation experience is to listen. Listen to participant discussion during the session. Participants with facilitation experience will show their hand by the way they ask questions – powerful questions – to other participants. Pull those participants aside at breaks or in between sessions. Again, build rapport. Start building trust. Ask for advice. Do not hesitate to develop a strategy for getting discrete assistance when session disruption occurs.


What to Do

  1. Mentally prepare for disruption. Embrace disruption

  2. Identify other “facilitators in the room” that can assist you

  3. Develop three bridging or escape tactics

  4. Establish an advisory team whose role is formalized to the participants

  5. Keep your cool. Disruptions are a part of facilitation.


Anticipate Disruption

Integrate other approaches to fabulous facilitation. Powerful questions anticipate disruption, in part, by seeking to minimize misunderstanding. Pre-session preparation also assists in anticipating disruption by helping the facilitator to understand participant hot buttons. And exercises that engage also support anticipating disruption by efficiently keeping participants focused on common activities rather than individual differences.


Embrace the reality of disruption and are prepared to move through it. Handling disruption is one of the most important and tricky aspects of facilitation.

 

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