“Your meeting agenda doesn’t make any sense at all. We don’t need to spend any time talking about the current hiring process. That’s a waste of time. We’re not go to do the old process anymore. This series of meetings is supposed to be about developing a new process, not focusing on the old one. If you are going to insist on wasting the group’s time, I’ll just leave now, and you can call me when you are ready to do the real work.”
What do you do when someone attacks your meeting process or agenda – the one you spent weeks developing and additional time gaining the approval of the sponsor to use?
A Traditional Response
This is quite a challenging situation, isn’t it? On one hand there is the traditional school of thought that says, “The facilitator is responsible for the process – the participants are responsible for the content.” In this framework, it is perfectly logical for the facilitator to say the following.
Facilitator: “I certainly can understand why it may seem that talking about the current hiring process is a waste of time. In our work with numerous other organizations, we have found that it is essential for everyone to be clear on how things work today. My request is that you ‘trust the process’ and give the agenda an opportunity to unfold. If in the next 30-60 minutes you are still feeling the same way, we can revisit this. Are you willing to do that?”
This traditional response may very well be effective in a number of cases. The facilitator is asking the participant to suspend judgment and trust that there is solid rationale for the process design. However, we have found that people are more apt to trust the process when they have an opportunity to buy into the process from the start.
A Prevention Strategy
You can prevent many challenges to your meeting process by gaining buy-in to the agenda up front. In the “Getting the Session Started” module from The Effective Facilitator, we teach facilitators the secret to gaining buy-in to the agenda.
Secret #9 – The Secret to Getting Buy-in to Your Meeting Agenda
Gain buy-in to the agenda by linking what the participants want to the agenda for the meeting.
- Involve participants as early as possible in the session by asking them to give their personal objectives for the session – or to identify the topics they want to see covered, the challenges that must be overcome, or some other topic that contributes to the overall goal of the session.
- After reviewing the agenda, go back to the participants’ key topics. Ask the participants to identify under which agenda item each of their topics should be covered. Circle any key topic not covered by the proposed agenda.
- After reviewing all key topics identified by the participants, go back to the ones that were not covered by the agenda. Determine with the group whether these topics will be saved for a later session or if the agenda should be modified in order to ensure that these topics are discussed in the current session.
Asking the participants to link their key topics to the agenda serves two powerful purposes:
- It helps ensure that the participants understand the agenda items.
- It also increases the participants’ buy-in into the agenda by showing participants where their concerns will be covered.
If The Challenge Still Comes
Of course, despite your efforts to gain buy-in to the agenda, you may still have process challenges like the one that started this article. So. what do you do? We recommend the following approach.
If you are in favor of the change, consider the following steps.
- Thank the participant for the suggestion.
- Indicate to the group that you favor the change and ask the group’s permission to execute accordingly.
If you are not in favor of the change, consider a different set of steps.
- Acknowledge that the participant may be right and give at least one advantage to making the change.
- Explain why you believe it may be better to leave things as they are.
(By first giving an advantage to doing what the participant suggested and then saying why you believe it would be better to leave things as they are, your words will most likely be received as an explanation rather than a defense of the process.)
- Indicate your willingness to following the group’s direction.
- Ask the group if they agree with the requested change.
(To avoid the perception of bias, do NOT ask if they agree with leaving things as they are.)
Below is a sample of the dialogue:
Facilitator: “You may very well be right. We may not need to discuss the current process. And, if we don’t, it will certainly save us time. Let me share with you why I thought it was a good idea. By discussing the steps in the current process and identifying the problems that occur in each step, we will be better able to ensure that those same problems don’t occur in whatever new process we create. However, if you would like, let’s put it to the group and see how the group would prefer to handle it …”
You may find that, when a process challenge is handled in this way – first acknowledging, then identifying an advantage, giving an explanation, and offering to have the group decide – the person may even withdraw the suggestion. But, no matter the result, we believe this type of response from the facilitator avoids confrontation, leaves the participant feeling respected, and acknowledges the willingness of the facilitator to be flexible.
Learn more group facilitation techniques like these in our two courses, The Effective Facilitator (4-day, comprehensive skill building in group facilitation) or Facilitating Masterful Meetings (2-day, fundamental skill building in meeting facilitation).
Contact us if you’re ready to learn more group facilitation techniques to elevate the results from your team.