Facilitating Sustainability Strategy Sessions
The biggest change in our consulting approach since Terra Infirma was founded in 2006 is the move away from a traditional ‘clipboard consulting’ – gather evidence, analyse data, formulate recommendations, write report – to a facilitation-based approach – gather stakeholders, agree goals, generate ideas, come to mutually agreed conclusions. The reasons for this shift are numerous:
- You unlock the intellectual capital of the organisation;
- You lessen the risk of proposing conclusions which are incompatible with company culture or other strategies;
- You lessen the risk of missing important factors;
- You get buy-in from the stakeholders – the results are much less likely to sit on the shelf if key people have been directly involved in generating them;
- The kinaesthetic experience of arranging Post-Its, sticky dots etc brings out the creative in us all;
- It’s a lot of fun.
I don’t think I have taken on a job in the last 12 months which hasn’t featured one of my growing collection of facilitation templates printed at A0 size to be drawn on with markers and/or plastered with Post-Its. Here’s one I developed recently:
In this case I took the client stakeholders through agreeing the ultimate goal (eg a sustainable company), defining the intermediate goal we were focussed on (ie one of the doors to the ultimate goal – in this case culture change) and then brainstormed the key issues (which would unlock the door). Very simple stuff (and crude artwork!), but it got a dozen or so people from different functions of the business focussed and agreed on the goals and key issues very rapidly. We then went on to further template sheets to do a SWOT analysis and then brainstorm how we would approach the problem before agreeing an outline task list.
One of my biggest misunderstandings of the facilitation approach when I started using it was to expect some really innovative ideas to spring out of every session. These inspirations can and do emerge – an it is fantastic when they do – but it is much more important to achieve openness and consensus. Making the implicit explicit is very important to reach agreement – how many times have you sat in a traditional round table meeting and felt that people were talking at cross-purposes? Getting every thing down (or up as the case may be!) on paper makes this much less likely to happen.
If you are interested in this approach, I found the two days I spent a few years ago on a training course led by Tony Mann of Resource Strategic Change Facilitators invaluable and more recently I’ve been inspired by the book Visual Meetings by David Sibbet. But the best way to learn is to just do it – every session I run I work out a new way to enhance my toolbox of techniques.