21 June 2015

Effective Facilitation for Busy Agile Coaches

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One key element of the agile coach or scrum masters role is that of facilitation. Facilitation requires a fair amount of skill as it's not simply getting everyone in a room and letting them talk until the time is up. You need to help the conversation move along so that the maximum amount of value is gained from the conversation. It is therefore important that you learn the tools available especially when the meetings you need to facilitate include remote workers.

In the modern business arena we have many different tools to help us hold meetings, GoTo Meeting, Skype, Hangouts and Room are just a few of the popular ones out there today and it is in your interest to learn as much as you can about them so that you are able to start run and end meetings as efficiently as possible. The more you try these tools the more you'll become aware of their strengths and weaknesses and you'll be able to react faster in the event of a mishap. If you can quickly react and get the meeting back on track you'll avoid losing the audience and the value they need to bring.

I recommend that you read up on the tools you use but also try out a few 'dummy' meetings with another coach so that both of you benefit from the learning experience. Ask yourself if you are aware of the various options? Can you share your screen or video efficiently? Is the audio clear? What would I do if the audio failed? Can I recover from a lost connection quickly? The answers to these questions will build a disaster recovery tool-kit that will help you maintain momentum should things go wrong.

You should also find efficient ways to get meetings into peoples calendars. Make sure you have access to at least view the blocks in peoples calendars even if you can't see the detail, and check they are free for the full timeslot, there's nothing worse than having someone walk out part way through. Gauge how long you really need the meeting to be and if you need more than an hour you may want to consider splitting the agenda and covering it over two meetings. People live busy lives and have multiple threads on the go so being clean and concise will help the content stick in a busy world.

If you set up meetings regularly with the same people, and as an agile coach the chances are high that you will. Consider a few short-cuts to help you get the meeting set up, like adding a distribution list to your address book with those people on it so you don't have to add each name individually. One fantastic tip that has served me well over the past few years is to use the signature feature in Outlook to hold the relevant meeting details, phone numbers, web links etc. You can set up several different signatures with different details in them so when you're setting the meeting up getting the main dial in info in there is as simple as inserting the right signature. I'm sure you can use a similar method in other email clients.

Remember to consider that people may be in different geographic locations so you'll need to include as many options as possible for them to connect. Some services like GoTo Meeting offer dial in numbers for multiple countries, be sure to select the ones that cover your audience. Offer free numbers in case some need to dial in from home, we don't all have that fully inclusive telephone bundle you know. Also consider mobile friendly dialling options, if you format the number correctly it can be as simple as tapping a link in the invite to get dialled in without having to hunt for and remember the meeting id or access code.

Remember you want to make the process of joining your meeting as effortless as possible so that people are in the right frame of mind when they come in. If they have had to mess about with phone numbers and codes the chances are they will be late and flustered and not really in a positive frame of mind so you'll not get the best from them. Also remember people are on the go all the time and trying to squeeze every minute of home life out of every day so some calls may be taken on their commute. You need to consider if the time of day fits the type of call you want to hold, a video conference with screen-sharing is going to be a pain if you are on the bus or in the car. They can always stay in the office later I suppose but then we are back to positive frames of mind and how much they'll hate you for keeping them late. Sometimes it's unavoidable but don't make a habit of it.

Finally you may want to consider reaching out for feedback after the meeting. Some of your audience will reply and the information they give you will help make future meetings better. I've received feedback in the past that has helped me be more mindful of my audience like booking rooms for remote offices to save people hunting for a meeting room, avoiding the meeting room with a dodgy mike or even uncomfortable chairs, not booking rooms that hold 20 people if there are only 3 in the meeting. All of this is valuable and will contribute to better meetings that focus on the content and value each person brings to the table rather than the tools and environments you use.

Pulling all this together, you can make your facilitation as effective as possible by following a few simple rules:

  • Know your tools and be prepared for disaster
  • Know your audience and make it effortless to attend
  • Find ways to make it easy to set things up
  • Get feedback and continually improve
I hope this helps you become a more effective facilitator, I know it's helped me.