How do you know if you’ve done a good job facilitating?
There is no simple or universal answer to this question, but there is a wrong answer. Effective meeting facilitation is not about being liked. Just because a few of your participants sing your praises afterward doesn’t mean you’ve actually accomplished your goals. Conversely, just because your participants aren’t smiling or hugging each other or you afterward doesn’t mean you’ve failed.
The biggest mistake that facilitators make going into meetings is not going in with clear, aligned goals. If there’s no goal clarity, there’s no fair way of collectively assessing how you did.
Even if you have goal clarity, “reading the room” is not an effective way to assess those goals, regardless of how skillful you think you are. We as humans all suffer from cognitive biases and a predilection for projecting our own opinions onto others.
My friend, Ed, is a radiologist, and he recently pointed me to this op-ed about the recent trend in U.S. health care of conflating patient satisfaction with effectiveness. The problem is that research shows that high patient satisfaction scores do not correlate to healthier patients. However, they do correlate with higher spending on drugs and higher death rates.
People-pleasing is a natural human instinct, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Losing sight of other critical goals is. Relying on perceived satisfaction as a way to assess your performance will lead you down that stray path. Medicine has the advantage of having clearer, objective measures, but the absence of those measures does not mean you can give up trying.
I create evaluation surveys before meetings, and I always ask assessment questions about the meeting’s goals. This forces you and your co-designers to get clear about what your goals are and how you might measure success up-front, which in and of itself will make your meetings better. At worst, you get aggregate feedback that is more likely to be frank than feedback shared with the whole group or one-on-one at the end of a meeting, when everyone is on an emotional high (or low). But surveys are simply a starting point, and it’s important not to read too much into them.
- Share the Garfield frame around collaborative action networks
- Start developing a shared understanding of the participants’ frame around collaborative action networks
- Create a valuable experience for practitioners who support, fund, and participate in collaborative action networks
At the end of the meeting, people shared glowing reflections on the two days, and several people came up to me praising me for my facilitation. If I were using that alone as my success metric, I might have thought that I had pulled off the best meeting ever. However, our evaluation survey told a more nuanced story.
We received high scores for the first and third goals, but a mixed (although overall solid) score for our second goal around developing a shared understanding of the participants’ frame. That also included a few biting comments about my facilitation.
I didn’t stress about the negative comments. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, I was not perfect, and even if I were, you’re not always going to please everyone. (In fact, when I expect to be diving into difficult conversation, which was not the case at this workshop, I often use that kind of negative feedback as a measure of success.)
The score on our second goal, however, required us to go deeper. We had to reflect on what we could have done better, but also what the scores did and didn’t tell us. This also got us thinking about behavioral metrics (as opposed to self-assessment surveys) that we could use to better track this goal.
There are no perfect ways to evaluate the effectiveness of your facilitation. But starting with clear goals takes you halfway there, and being thoughtful, intentional, and iterative about collecting better data will take you even further. Hugs are data too, so don’t discount them when you get them. Just don’t conflate them with success.