Five Considerations for a facilitator.
Being a facilitator means first giving up the need to have the answer. Your job is not to lead others to your conclusion, instead it is to lead your group to a solution, product, service or new organization that solves the challenge and excites the group. Secondly, your role is to ask questions that do not lead to an obvious conclusion. Instead questions should be open and look at the challenge in different ways to provide the best conclusion. For example, Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks originally pursued the concept of replicating the Italian coffee shop. His question was, “How can I recreate the Italian espresso bar in the United States?” He later changed his perspective and instead asked, “How can I create a comfortable, relaxing environment to enjoy great coffee?” A different question creates a different set of solutions!
1. Ask Questions
Asking the question one way, then altering the question for more ideas can be helpful in avoiding the trap of asking the wrong question. For example, when working with an engineering group the first question was, “How do we solve the parking problem on campus? After brainstorming for a while, the question was changed to,What do commuting students face and what would they suggest?, then, What would faculty suggest? and finally, “What wild and crazy ideas do you have?” While some ideas were similar the new questions always created more ideas than before.
Your role as a facilitator is to ask the questions, record answers as expressed by members of your group and refrain from offering solutions yourself. You will find they will suggest solutions similar to your idea and more that can create a more comprehensive solution. Group members typically get off track and begin having discussions. Refocus them on brainstorming by reminding them of the question being addressed.
2. Create play time.
When adults play, minds wander and the subconscious is given opportunity to go to work. This is why time off from work is necessary for creativity to bloom. I imagine you have been stumped when attempting to solve a problem only to find the answer while taking a walk or engaging in an activity totally unrelated to your work situation. I find that when unable to think through a problem, taking a run usually relaxes my mind permitting my subconscious to work overtime leading to resolution of problems or creation of a new idea. Harry Truman was known to leave Washington DC to return to his farm when being challenged with issues in congress. After cutting a cord of wood or plowing the back 40, Truman would return to DC refreshed and ready to tackle challenges thrown at him.
When working with a client I always have tennis balls, hula hoops and a rope available to provide play time and help people think out of the box. Recently, I helped a small business think through ways to improve revenue and reduce costs. The owners and staff were given an exercise to go through a hula hoop together. My goal was to open their minds to new ways to collaborate and make decisions. The owners initiated regular communication and problem solving meetings with staff and their business began improving.
When you think about offering play exercises for your staff consider the following guidelines:
10 minute exercises create awareness.
10 – 30 minute exercises begin skill development
2-3 hour exercises begin changing attitudes.
The most effective exercises include opportunity for participants to see, hear and touch during their time together. Having free time at work to play games, relax and share ideas is also valuable for enhancing creativity at work. Keep children’s play toys and games around to encourage discussion and new ideas.
3. Encourage out of box ideas.
Creative leaders are always on the lookout for great ideas. You can do this by practicing mindfulness, which involves intentionally noticing things and letting your mind relax and focus. Research has shown we lose our creativity as we allow ourselves to work longer hours and sleep less. Failing to restore our bodies and minds with sufficient sleep leads to greater tension, more frustration and higher levels of anxiety. To set the climate for out of the box thinking it is incumbent on any leader to get between 7 and 10 hours of sleep each night and encourage everyone in their workforce to do the same. Decision making ability is depleted when we are tired. Bill Clinton stated every mistake he made was when he was tired. We are much more effective and able to create when our energy is not depleted. For that reason any leader who encourages full sleep at night and naps at work will renew energy, mental alertness and creative thinking on the part of themselves and their associates.
Don’t let accidents discourage or distract you. Instead approach them as learning opportunities that can lead to new ideas. Inventions such as Posted Notes and The Slinky were created because someone asked why their initiative did not work and how their unintended result could benefit in another way.
4. Develop concepts from list of “out of the box” ideas.
Two time-tested methods exist for making sense out of a long list of ideas in order to develop a new concept. Both methods are based on high level participation and consensus decisions.
The 80/20 Rule is based on scientific study that concludes eighty percent of anything is caused or cured by twenty percent of something. According to Wikipedia, “The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Management consultant Joseph M. Juran suggested the principle and named it after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who, while at the University of Lausanne in 1896, published his first paper “Cours d’économie politique.” Essentially, Pareto showed that approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population; Pareto developed the principle by observing that 20% of the peapods in his garden contained 80% of the peas.It is a common rule of thumb in business; e.g., “80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients.” Mathematically, the 80–20 rule is roughly followed by a power law distribution (also known as a Pareto distribution) for a particular set of parameters, and many natural phenomena have been shown empirically to exhibit such a distribution.
5. Create an Action Plan with the critical few solutions
McDonald’s asked me to work with their Owner Operator market team in Colorado. This group of 20-30 restaurants experienced challenges maintaining inventory, long drive through times and order accuracy was below standard. We spent a morning clarifying the problem (ask the right questions) after which we brainstormed causes to the problems. Using the 80/20 rule the operators voted on the six out of thirty issues causing most of the problems. The six causes were then listed on the wall and a list of solutions were brainstormed for each cause. Twenty percent of the solutions were selected and put into an action plan for monthly review. This market team set new records for reduced drive through time and increased order accuracy. Additionally they began sharing inventory so that no restaurant would run out of food or supplies.
In summary, eliminating fear and sense of competition by artful facilitation can generate car loads of creative ideas to solve most problems and create better means of getting work done or new products developed.