A skilled facilitator once told me: “My skills don’t count. What really matters are the participants. Artful participation is the key.”
I’m not 100% convinced as I think a skilled facilitator makes a huge difference, but it definitely made me think. And what he said boils down to few points:
- everyone who attends a meeting is responsible for its success,
- each participant can make a meeting more (or less!) effective,
- participation, similarly to facilitation, is a skill that you can master.
Sociocracy 3.0 has a pattern that explains it (in fact, this pattern is for every type of collaboration, not only meetings). It is called Artful Participation and it urges us to:
Commit to doing your best to act and interact in ways that enable effective collaboration.
Now imagine how your meetings would look like if every person would frequently reevaluate their behavior asking themselves this question:
“Is my behavior in this moment the greatest contribution I can make to the effectiveness of this collaboration?”
Imagine Mark not going into details when you discuss high-level vision. Imagine Mary speaking up when she has something valuable to say (everyone knows she does, but for some reasons, she never speaks on her own). Imagine X & Y not going into “who is the alpha male” type of contest. Imagine Z not interrupting others, A not clicking her f*(#& pen and B not rolling his eyes every time C speaks.
…your world would be a much better place, wouldn’t it?
During meetings, I also ask myself the following question:
“is what I’m doing the best I can do for this collaboration?”.
Very often the answer is no. Then I try to change my behavior. Sometimes I succeed.
I have my personal list of things that I should (or shouldn’t) be doing so that I help to achieve effective collaboration. It includes:
- giving other chance to speak (AKA “shut up and listen”),
- not taking part in “who is the smartest/funniest guy” contest,
- restraining myself from telling a joke/anecdote,
- telling a joke/anecdote (sometimes this is what is needed!),
- not interrupting others (very hard when I’m oh-so-in-love with something so smart and witty that I plan to say),
- not interrupting when the discussion doesn’t go as I expected to (sometimes a sidetrack discussion can lead to some very interesting places),
- reminding others (often by interrupting them) about the goal of the meeting when discussion drifts away from the topic (and it doesn’t go into interesting places) and I feel we won’t reach the meeting goal or any reasonable goal at all,
- demanding we finish with clear actions (“OK, so we talked, now what are the action points?”),
- not allowing others to report to me (when I’m facilitating),
- engaging others to participate,
- demanding that we start with facts (so that everyone understands the context),
- leaving the meeting if my presence doesn’t bring any value (very hard to do!),
- … and so on
Just do it
Personally, I find the concept of artful participation very powerful and useful. So, why don’t you give it a try?