Facilitating Positive Outcomes At Work

Understanding how to facilitate successful results between groups of people.

It seemed like such a simple task: Create a monthly meeting schedule between health-care professionals.

These professionals needed to schedule regular interdisciplinary hospital rounds meetings. On one side were three rehabilitation physicians (physiatrists) who had their opinions, and genuine needs, since they were juggling patients’ lives through the critical care process from acute care hospitals to the rehab facility where everyone worked.

On the other side were the managers of all the allied health professionals and nurses, who held strong views, too. They represented physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, audiologists, recreational therapists, psychologists, dietitians, and others. Managers needed to advocate for their team members’ rights.

For all the human reasons that create divisions between people—the “them vs. us mentality”—this scheduling exercise between managers and physicians wasn’t working well. As a new speech-language pathologist, I was on one of the rehab teams. I felt I could see the problem that was happening. I offered to meet with the management and physician teams separately. I heard their perspectives on the problem at hand. Then I went to our hospital leadership team to get their support for my facilitating ongoing meetings to discuss a resolution.

FACILITATORS MUST BE ACCEPTABLE TO ALL GROUPS

To facilitate a workable solution to this scheduling problem, the facilitator needed to be an acceptable player to both groups, one who could play a neutral role. I had proven to both groups in my separate meetings that I could equitably listen to them, clarify and objectively record their needs and concerns, and had everyone’s best interests at heart. Both groups were willing to work with me.

ACKNOWLEDGE THE EMOTIONS

People can get passionate about their causes. They can get downright angry about issues important to them. Spouting off heated words can lead to hurt feelings and people.

One thing I had to do was listen to each of the professional groups share their frustrations in isolation from the other. I needed each individual to put his or her volatile emotions out on the table. What did they resent? In their view, what was the other party blind to? What were the stumbling blocks to agreement? Why did they feel the other side didn’t understand them?

By the end of their respective meetings, they knew there was one other person, besides themselves, who understood how they felt. The feedback I gave was always reflective, open, and transparent. I recorded everything to be as objective as possible.

I returned to each group to share the emotionally laden feelings each group had toward the other with one caveat: I also shared the reasons they held such strong feelings. This gave both groups an opportunity to glimpse the other side of the coin they hadn’t been privy to before.

SEPARATE THE ISSUE(S) FROM THE EMOTIONS

Members of both groups gave a cathartic sigh of relief when people voiced their feelings. Now I had to persuade each side to let go of those emotions and move ahead with the real issues at hand.

The key to the solution was identifying the interests of people in the issue at stake and not dwelling on emotions. What were the real needs, desires, and concerns of each group member? With emotional sparring put aside, each person could hear for the first time why each individual or group was fighting for specific meeting times. Scheduling had to move away from positioning to understanding each group’s needs.

FACILITATE A COMMON CONSENSUS

With identified needs, desires, and concerns written down and shared with everyone together in the same room, we needed to come to a common consensus around problem solving.

I facilitated agreed-upon criteria with everyone for how we would make a final decision. We agreed on how to proceed with generating alternative solutions based upon shared needs and concerns. They used the chosen decision-making criteria to test different suggestions presented by all groups. All group members used the consensus criteria to select the best solution. When the problem dictates the need, it may require an action plan before implementing. The facilitator should evaluate the outcomes and process after the groups implement any solution.

It would be wonderful to say the outcome of my first facilitation process led to ready-to-implement calendared scheduling everyone was happy with. Alas, that was not the case. Positions vs. interests still dictated people’s views, which I could not shift.

However, my facilitation did generate civility and greater respect between all parties. It also laid the foundation for the eventual acceptance of a workable schedule a few months later. Each party had to learn to give and take rather than wait for the “perfect” solution. This never would have happened before.

I recall receiving acknowledgments from several individuals from both management and physician groups thanking me for trying. They respected what I tried to do. They acknowledged my neutrality and adherence to a process that allowed them to at least see the other group’s point of view. They liked how they could test different recommendations. And they discovered how they could get along with everybody even if they didn’t agree with their point of view.

With such priceless results, it’s no wonder I continue to enjoy facilitating meetings and conducting problem-solving and strategy sessions.

Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP, is author of “GIVING the Real Recognition Way” and Chief Learning Officer at Rideau Recognition Solutions. His consulting and learning skills focus on helping companies “give real recognition the right way wherever they are.” For recognition insights, visit: http://AuthenticRecognition.com. For more information, e-mail him at RoySaunderson@Rideau.com or visit www.Rideau.com.

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