Setting the table

Key choices to be made as a facilitator or lead
Written by Martin West
Updated 2 years ago

Open in separate browser - Urban dictionary for the expression "Setting the table" is:

To lay the groundwork for a future event.

The role of facilitator or lead can be to verbalize "format/rules" 

A duty of a facilitator or lead as well as the team participating is to create a space where all parties can be effective in achieving the goal agreed. There are a number of key areas that may need to be addressed before and during the interplay. 

Here are some things to consider: 

Meeting intent

  • Facilitator and leads generally seek clarity around intent of the meeting. This is  a great place to start engaging participants. Uncertainty about the expected outcome or output of the meeting does not mean there is lack of clarity around the intent. The intent can be to understand and seek clarity.

Structure of the conversation

  • You may want to follow a specific planned structured for the conversations in terms of stages and steps, like we do in ceremonies. These tried and tested models for specific conversations are useful at creating repeatable outputs/ outcomes for teams. Flexibility at times can be helpful. 
  • Determining the structure will likely vary based on the requirements for the conversation. These may be specific to the goal of the event, the relationship you have with the participants and they have with each other, the level of collaboration, or discourse, the specific logistics, and your meeting process.

Clear expectation for participants for communication and sharing

  • Clear expectations about the communication style for the different parts of the conversation. Time for input, for review, for challenging, for consensus building, for agreement... for reflection and for decisions. A physiological safe environment can be critical to ensure contribution from the parties. Facilitation process is critical in aligning the risks associated with giving input for the participant with the features of a conversation connected with a specific communication style.  

Who needs to be present?

For the discussion or parts of, for the decision and agreement process...

  • Determine who needs to be present for the conversation, who has the knowledge to help guide the group, who is a key stakeholder, who must be agree for the decision to be made. And anyone else who needs input and under what conditions. 
  • Who doesn't need to be present but needs to be informed of, or approve the decision. 

Quorum & Attendance

  • Who is required at the meeting? Can they delegate? 

Establishing your role

Letting everyone know your role and position brings clarity to your leadership role as a facilitator. 

  • Are you a facilitator? Are you neutral to the outcome? Or do you have interests in the outcome? Are you going to make a contribution?

Confidentially & Tone

Establishing rules around confidentiality is critical in giving people the confidence associated with feeling safe and appropriate in sharing their perspective and views. It is important to set the tone for the meeting. 

  • Include the request for sharing, and freedom/requirements to or not challenge each other, and any devil's advocate requests. 
  • Share what is the expectation around confidentiality. Will there be an activity to determine what get communicated. Will there be a formal agreement? Is there agreement not to share details of different positions held during the meeting? 

Rules for communication, multi-tasking and use of tech

  • In some circumstances it can be important to outline the rules for communication such as letting each person finish their thought, or passing the virtual or real stick around the circle to ensure that only one person talks at once.
  • We may have a conversation where we need multiple groups involved, but not all topics will be relevant to everyone. We may want to allow multi-tasking and have clear protocol / communication about who is involved in each conversation as the agenda flows.
  • We may want no tech or everyone to have tech so it does not matter whether someone is remote or physically in the meeting, we are using the same channels for communication. 
  • There are many rules that the team working together may want to agree. This can be done through general working agreements or specifically for a meeting. Many rules can be unspoken or undocumented that if crossed can be managed in the conversation by the facilitator, lead or other participants.  

What does agreement mean? 

  • There are different forms of agreement, from a single decision maker to formal consensus. Agreement process needs to be clear for everyone partaking in the process. Often this is based on organization culture, and who is at the meeting. 

Can people ask for separate private meetings?

  • Caucus (private meeting) during a negotiation seems strange in a corporate meeting. It is normal in conflict resolution. It can be used to challenge someone in private (save face) or ensure support for a specific idea or position. Such small private meetings can be used to help parties build agreement. These can be between a neutral facilitator and specific people or groups. They can also be party to party or internal to a single group. Generally if one group meets with the facilitator the same courtesy is offered the other party.  

Laying the groundwork in Janars 

Facilitator or lead can create certain conditions for the interplay: 

  • By selecting a canvas for the interplay. This determines the framework for the conversation. And within that determine how to facilitate each part. 
  • Determining whether for specific cards or the whole interplay inputs of participants are to be anonymous
  • Amend the question set before or during the interplay
  • In the Xapty interface (collaborative editing) - plan and adapt based on the participant needs and data output how to run this process (see article on the Xapty interface)
  • Update instructions provided by the orchestrator
  • Skip a step - If a step is not needed, the facilitator can skip it as any point in the facilitation. (i.e. it is a participant card, then they can move it to the next card. If it is a facilitator can then they can state it is completed and it will move forward.)
  • Set a deadline and manage the pace of the interplay. 
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