Facilitation Meets Youth Services

Youth Services Meeting Ground RulesI was recently invited to facilitate a meeting of our Youth Services staff.  Since my early facilitation experiences were in an informal book club setting, I appreciated the chance to facilitate a more structured meeting.  The group was meeting to reflect on the highs and lows of our 2013 Summer Reading Program and to brainstorm programs for the first half of 2014.  After receiving the agenda and time goals in advance, I planned activities and techniques that would move the discussion forward.  Since the meeting had three “phases”, I chose a slightly different mechanic for each topic.

The first phase was meant to be a quick introductory activity.  Each member was asked to share a favorite book, event, or library program from the summer.  I could have done better in setting the tempo!  I chose to let this phase continue about 20 minutes past its scheduled time.  I felt that the positive sharing was good preparation for the potentially contentious discussion that would follow.  Since most responses revolved around the library, it started our discussion about “Summer Reading highs” early and synced up with the agenda.

I received feedback from some attendees that they don’t always feel heard in Youth Services meetings because a few strong voices sometimes dominate the discussion.  Though the individual sharing may have been a little inefficient, I was grateful that we had stuck with it.  My introductory activity gave every member an opportunity to have the floor.

SRP Highs and LowsIn the next phase, SRP highs and lows, I tried to offer a bit of anonymity and reduce tension by having attendees write both their positive and negative responses on a card.  I collected, shuffled, and redistributed the stack so each participant had another person’s reaction to share.  Although I honestly don’t know if this was successful or not, the big issues still seemed to be addressed.

For phase three, brainstorming on program themes, the staff broke into 3 groups of 6; brainstormed on each month’s theme for 3 minutes a month; and then reported back to the larger group.  I felt fortunate about the timing as I only had to cut the group off twice while discussions were still “crescendoing”.  If anyone felt 3 minutes was too long for each theme, they were polite about it!

One attendee pointed out that I completely forgot to do introductions.  While rushing to get things started, I utterly spaced out explaining who I was and what I was doing!  I also made the silly assumption that the members of the group knew each other as well.  I’ll do better next time.

I continue to be impressed by the creativity and intelligence of our staff.  I’m grateful that facilitated discussions are becoming a part of our internal culture.  They help creativity and productivity to flourish while opening the floor to more voices in the discussion.

Posted by Mark Sorensen, Facilitator-in-Training

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