How many of you have been in meetings or workshops that veer off track and become ‘talk shops’ that have little chance of reaching the outcomes that were agreed at the start? Are you often left wondering how relevant a meeting’s topic is to your day-to-day work?

As process facilitators we are called on to help a group achieve an objective or output such as a strategic plan, a partnership agreement, multi-stakeholder engagement, or policy advice. It’s important for us to be clear from the first contact with clients about what outcomes they are seeking. Only with these outcomes clearly stated and prioritised can you design methods to achieve them and measure success.

But achieving these ‘hard’ outcomes (the plan, project document or agreement) often relies on a suite of more subtle ‘soft’ outcomes such as team buy-in, learning, trust and relationship building, understanding or enthusiasm. Striking a balance between what you need the group to achieve and how everyone feels about the process is a skill that requires deliberate and thoughtful preparation and planning, flexibility and an ability to read situations as they evolve. This means keeping one eye on group dynamics and the other on the clock!

Central to keeping a meeting on track is designing excellent questions that are pertinent to the group and its collective work. Workshops can involve dozens of questions – big and small. Every question you ask has an impact on the group and questions can serve multiple purposes. We often use Appreciative Inquiry to help us frame our questions – one of the assumptions is that the act of asking questions of an organisation or group influences the group in some way. Great questions can focus minds and can provide energy (not so great ones can draw people down a pathway that confuses or bores them, or takes the wind from their sails). Questions should be carefully crafted from the start of the process and their usefulness continually reviewed throughout.

Articulating intelligent outcomes, designing purposeful questions, and balancing task maintenance with group sensitivity are core skills that the Bright Green Learning Academy can help you to build. Find out more about our programme.

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