Great Western Railways wanted to re-establish their Customer Panel organisation, to provide a forum for a broader base of customers to engage with the organisation. The intention was for the panels to be a combination of information about corporate strategy, current activity and performance with the opportunity for customers to question mid-senior level managers on specific topics.
Our company was approached because of our specialism in facilitation and our track record in facilitating a range of consultation events for a broad range of clients. Our chosen facilitator has a strong background and qualification in mediation which was felt to be of benefit in this situation
Our Approach to the Design
In the design phase we explored with the client the specific requirements for this project. This exploration gave us insights into the expectation of the role of the facilitation and the importance of being able to provide a neutral presence at the event.
We used a collaborative design approach and over a series of phone calls and emails we agreed with the client the event logistics and timing and the facilities. We explored the role of the managers/speakers who would be attending the event and their style and aptitude for this important customer facing event.
Facilitating the Event
It was agreed that the event should work in an informal way, rather than having a “panel” of managers at the front of the room, presenting to and answering questions from the audience. This would enable the GWR staff to sit at tables with the customers, leading to a less confrontational environment. However this requires a more complex facilitation style. The facilitator used nonverbal signals to the presenters, ensuring they endeavored to keep their presentations to time without having to interrupt the presentation.
Once presentations were over the facilitator managed a question and answer session, identifying those who wanted to question and making sure each individual was heard. Additionally use of body language to “close down” those who were trying to ask second questions. This method helped to reduce the need for “verbally shutting people down” that can often result in upset and emotive responses. Additionally the facilitator worked hard to make sure that the room understood when there was a ‘“final” question on a subject, so closing each section of the meeting ready to move to the next and therefore keep the whole meeting to time.
The facilitator had a follow up meeting to discuss the event and to draw out learning from the event, to take forward for any further customer panel meetings. Feedback from the event was positive, with key GWR staff noting the lack of confrontation that had been experienced at other customer panel events. GWR customers also noted that everyone who had wanted to question or contribute had been given the opportunity and the event ran to time.