About Clare Howard

An experienced facilitator, project manager and trainer working at senior level in a range of public and private sector organisations. Currently acting as sports strategy lead for the Association of Colleges. I also have various roles with the following organisations: Prospects4Sport, a sports consultancy business, the Community Sports Trust, a not for profit sports development company, the Centre for Facilitation, the leading organisation for facilitation services, and a range of voluntary clubs and organisations.

Board meetings and facilitation; an unnatural partnership?

A luxurious board room, dominated by an imposing table with heavy chairs placed around it. A Chairman exuding authority, calmness and control. Apologies for absence taken and the minutes of the last meeting accepted. Each item of business carefully recorded by the secretary, with Board members subtly attracting the attention of the Chair when they wish to speak. The meeting creeps from item to item until each member is asked for “Any Other Business” and the date of the next meeting is agreed.
• Is this a tried and tested format which works well and shouldn’t be messed with?
 • Or an old fashioned way of doing business which doesn’t allow for true creativity and problem solving, and holds organisations back?
At the Centre for Facilitation, our experience shows that there are some occasions when flexibility may help a Board of Directors to do business more effectively. The critical point, of course, is “does it help them achieve their business objectives?” There is nothing worse than a facilitator entering a board room, asking members to jump out of their seats, moving people around, posting flipcharts on the walls, and generally putting participants well out of their comfort zone – unless these activities are clearly linked to the business of the day. However, even if the facilitator makes a link, this type of disruption to normal procedures may be the quickest way for them to be thrown out of the room and never asked back.
It is an obvious conclusion, but a facilitator must know the audience and how far they may or may not be prepared to move from their normal way of working.

  • Talking to and understanding the Chair’s requirements before the meeting.
  • Ensuring that the objectives of the meeting (or individual items) are clear
  • Finding an appropriate process for each item which achieves the stated objective,

are the essential skills of the facilitator. Only then can the Chair and the facilitator (together) agree a plan for running the meeting, which may or may not require some aspects of the meeting to divert from traditional practice.

One example might be if there is an item on “reviewing the performance of x / y / z and determining future investment of these areas”. The item may need to begin with a more traditional form of presentation or review of each area, but then the facilitator can help the Board reach a decision more effectively through – for example – asking each member to generate their own list of criteria for investment, displaying the joint list and then asking them to score each department objectively against the new criteria, either as individuals, in smaller groups, or (if time) as a whole group. The business benefit of the smaller group activity is that the whole Board can reach a decision more quickly, because every member can contribute to the scoring without having to wait for their turn.

With a skilled facilitator, Board meetings of the future could consist of something like… a luxurious board room, dominated by an imposing table with heavy chairs placed around it. A Chairman exuding authority, calmness and control. A facilitator helping the group to achieve their business objectives through the introduction of a range of methods. The approach always maintain the interest of members, may involve moving briefly to another room, retains the traditional approach when it is required for information exchange or voting, and above all, moves the business forward through a complete focus on business objectives.
Clare Howard
clarehoward@centreforfacilitation.co.uk

Home Early: Good or Bad?

Whenever I run sessions, the question “We are really doing well – how would you feel if we had a shorter lunch and tried to finish earlier in the day?” is usually greeted with universal enthusiasm. Occasionally, however, there are people who prefer to stick to an agreed and advertised end time rather than find themselves with an unexpected half hour’s free time. This was driven home to me during a recent session when one participant felt aggrieved that the outcome had been achieved earlier than she had expected, and the day finished at 4pm instead of the advertised 4.30pm.
Of course, as we all know, people have different preferences when it comes to sticking to a schedule. More importantly, a good facilitator will know when the timings have to be “flexed” to allow for penetrating and valuable debate on an issue which, although timed for maybe 60 minutes, is clearly taking longer to solve. Similarly, we have to know when a discussion is not achieving its desired outcome and needs to be cut short and the process changed to enable a different method to be used to achieve the required result.
I think the key skill lies in flexing the timings accordingly within the agreed start and end point to a day, without finishing late, and yet taking into account those (admittedly few) people who may get upset if you finish early. One solution I find works ( on the enjoyable occasions when a range of facilitated techniques have resulted in an early conclusion) is to warn participants that the timings may be cut short, but that the session will still be “live” and open for further discussion for those who wish to stay until the appointed end time. This works well because although the formal debate has concluded, and results captured, the informal networking and sparking of ideas can continue.
Of course, this means that the facilitator needs to be on hand, and still working hard, right up to that appointed time, but after all that is what we are paid for!

clarehoward@centreforfacilitation.co.uk