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Essential skills to work and collaborate in 21st century... part 1 (Facilitation skills)

Well, we have all become victims of globalization, in the sense that none of us have been properly trained in how to work efficiently across borders. So we all need to add some new skill dimensions, in order to survive in the 21st century. I'd prefer to upgrade our skills “the Matrix-way”, but unfortunately, we probably have to wait a couple of decades for that to be possible.

In my opinion, project managers are the ones who especially need to succeed in this, because they are the change agents in an organization. So lets talk about project managers.

In my experience, project managers tend to:

  • not distribute roles when in a meeting - they believe that they should do everything in a meeting
  • not follow up on every action decided at a given meeting
  • not write down actions and reviews at the end of the meeting, in order to assign owners and deadlines
  • invite too many people to conference calls
  • have an opinion on a topic they have no chance of knowing anything about take ownership, instead of responsibility for other people’s ownership think that everyone thinks as they do, and thus are on the same page they are
  • forget to set the context when they start a meeting
  • take subject related actions
  • be more worried about practicalities instead of the real problem at hand

So what is the skill set for 21st project manager?
Besides proper project management, such as risk mgmt, change mgmt, resource mgmt, stakeholder mgmt, planning and coordinating, they need to master the following four skills in order to prevail as great project managers:
  1. Facilitation - facilitate effective virtual meetings
  2. Technology - use asynchronous as well as synchronous technologies
  3. Behavior (culture) - understand each other
  4. Self management (leadership) - how to lead and motivate your teams in a global environment.
In this post I will focus on facilitation.

Facilitation has many levels, so let me start with basic facilitation skills you can apply rather easily. Facilitating a context can be split into two parts, even though they are inter linked:
  1.  Clear Roles & Responsibilities
  2.  Follow a 4-Step process
For every meeting held in your organization, you shall consider these roles - some are mandatory, and some are optional, based on your meeting:

  • Facilitator (most likely the project manager)
  • Owner (sponsor of the project)
  • Teammates (involved teammates in the project)
  • Scribe (writes actions down so they are visible for every person attending
  • the meeting)
  • SME (if experts are needed for clarification on a topic)
  • Meeting Minutes (write notes & decisions made during the meeting)

Any person participating in the meeting can hold more than one role, but the following two roles should not be assigned to the same person - Facilitator and Owner, the reason being a very real “conflict of interest”. Let me explain.

The Owner is the one who pays for the project, ie sponsors the project, and in RACI terms the owner is ‘A’ccountable. The Facilitator is appointed by the owner, and is responsible for the project happening and therefore ‘R’esponsible. You could say that the Owner has delegated a frame of authorities to the Facilitator.

Ways to facilitate the context
Your project manager has two options for facilitating the context: synchronous or asynchronous.

The project manager can facilitate an asynchronous discussion via an online tool. These discussions typically take the shape of elaborations of opinions about a given topic, and may be done over the course of 1-2 working days - maybe more (but the longer it takes, the sooner it will tend to vanish and become forgotten).

So the project manager’s job is to make sure the discussion is started, maintained and closed properly. In most cases, the last piece is always forgotten.

Synchronous means face-to-face - and /or via a web-conferencing tool. These meetings are usually more difficult if roles, agenda and purpose are unclear to the participants. So to help project managers, there is a four step process for facilitating effective meetings. Basically, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a face-to-face meeting or if it’s a virtual meeting - the same rules apply, though in a virtual context they are even more important.

Four steps process for facilitating effective meetings
Let me introduce you to a fairly simple process which consists of four steps, containing 11 elements. I will almost guarantee, that if your project managers use this checklist for all meetings, you will see supreme efficiency from your project managers.

The four steps are Plan, Execute, Evaluate and Follow Up:
  1. Plan - 3xPs (Place, People & Purpose); Logistics and Initial Agenda
  2. Execute - Agenda, Expectations, Next Steps and Parking lot
  3. Evaluate - Expectations, Benefits & Concerns, Next Steps
  4. Follow Up - Next Step List
Sometimes, the most simple thing is the hardest thing to do, because it seems trivial. Something as simple as; assigning roles, having an agenda, having a purpose, having a visible action list for everyone and only inviting the relevant people, will ensure that most meetings will be shorter, and much more efficient!

Try it - you will be surprised!

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