To survive in today’s competitive environment, organizations need to find tools that will ease the process of knowledge capture and transfer in order to become learning organization. Facilitation is an essential tool to orchestrate the learning process, balance diverse opinions, and maintain momentum to achieve specific objectives as well as bring out knowledge and wisdom of the group.
Why do we need facilitation?
For knowledge based organizations, capturing, analyzing and utilizing lessons learned are the most important goals as they do not want to repeat the mistake nor reinvent the wheel. They focus more on the process of making tacit knowledge explicit, facilitating Peer Assist, After Action Review and Retrospect sessions. However, many organizations often face problems when the sessions end up with conflict as lessons learned sessions tend to bring out negatives. Sometimes when the discussions touch on failures, people feel offended and respond personally. In some cases, these people do not want to integrate the perspective of others; rather, they will try to avoid the conflicts altogether, which will frequently lead to ineffective session results. On the other side, some people will focus only on success stories that they are proud of and avoid talking about their mistakes, resulting in a lack of participation or a failure of ownership when solutions to problems are discussed. Facilitators then play an important role on helping orchestrate the session in a direction that organization desires. Facilitation thus enables effective knowledge capture and sharing where knowledge flows from where it was created to where it is needed. This approach provides the organizations with the capability to capture tacit knowledge and enables organizations to have strong learning culture.
What are key characteristics of an effective facilitator?
Effective facilitators should be open, calm, fair and enthusiastic; they should be able to manage group dynamics, focus on time keeping, follow an agreed agenda, and keep records of key decisions and commitments from the floor. They must encourage full participation, promote mutual understanding and ensure that all voices are heard, encouraged and supported. They need to ensure that meetings will be comfortable and non-confrontational and balance their focus along three dimensions; results, process and relationships.
Internal vs. External Facilitator
A common question faced by organizations that need to conduct lessons learned sessions is whether they should use internal or external facilitator. In most successful cases, organizations use external facilitators as external facilitators cannot override group decisions and are unbiased with no agenda and no stake in the outcome. Moreover, they can ask difficult or general questions where internal facilitators are afraid to ask in depth, so deep tacit knowledge can be extracted.
Facilitative behaviors and skills are essential for everyone in the knowledge based organization. Being a good facilitator requires both skill and art. It can be learned through experience. If you are asked to facilitate lessons learned session, be sure to plan the session well, follow the process and focus on the outcome, ensure to balance your role effectively, knowing when to lead, when to act neutral and when to take back seat role. Make sure that every voice is heard!