It’s About Control

Facilitation SkillsI was a guest facilitator at a Heartland 2050 vision committee meeting.  This was an opportunity to experience facilitating a meeting that another person had designed and set up.  I would also discover the benefits and challenges of facilitating someone else’s meeting.

The group discussed long-term planning in Omaha.  The session I facilitated discussed two particular aspects of long-term planning.  Although I didn’t have a strong preference, I did ask to facilitate Topic A.  I prepared for Topic A.  When I got to the meeting, I was assigned to Topic B.  I then spent time reading about Topic B.

When the meetings began, the organizers realized there were more people in a group and needed another facilitator for the other topic.  I volunteered to switch.  As I started the group I suddenly realized I was not mentally prepared.  This threw me for a few minutes while I tried to set up and bring the group together.  Not a great way to start a session.  I got the participants to introduce themselves and state what they wanted out of the meeting.

A lively discussion soon ensued.  Although I often felt reluctant to break up the conversation, I did to direct the discussion and bring us closer to an outcome.  They took redirection well and accepted my role.  The group did achieve the organizers’ priority – create vision outcome statements.

After I finished my session I did a self-plus/delta evaluation on the experience.  This was a great way to do a quick analysis.  It also illuminated aspects about facilitating someone else’s meeting that had not occurred to me.


  • Someone else designed the meeting (they did ALL that work)
  • Great attendance with high buy-in by participants
  • Engaged group – easy for them to talk
  • Great connections and conversations
  • Got outcome statements
  • Good meeting plan –  well laid out
  • Flexible organizers – they dealt well with different facilitators and last minute changes


  • Following someone else’s plan
  • Didn’t see the plan until shortly before the event began
  • Group/topic switched at the last minute
  • Hard to keep on track to the end result
  • Poor physical set-up – had no easel or good place to put a flip chart; hard to hear at times
  • Having defined set up places for the facilitators would work better than having the groups gathered together and the facilitators brought to the groups
  • Didn’t really get group thinking long term (40 years in the future)

I learned that facilitating a meeting not designed by you is a challenge.  These challenges include not being sure what the meeting organizer’s priorities or aims are.  The priorities might not be stated.  You have to interpret what is wanted.  You may not feel confident that you achieved the desired outcome.  You might not have any say in where you are meeting, the physical set up, and the materials you use.  Although someone else worries about the set-up, attendance, scheduling, rooms, equipment, and other details, you lose control.  I then realized that facilitation is about control.

I’ll admit I am a control freak.  I don’t need to control everything.  I find it hard to let go of the things I want or need to control.  It’s a challenge to follow someone else’s meeting plan as I don’t feel Take Controlin control.  Even though designing a meeting is hard work, I prefer that level of control.  It makes me more comfortable to know the desired outcome and how we hope to achieve it.  I feel more confident and better adapt to changes when I’m in control.  It’s easier to improvise when I know my material.

Since I like being in control, why was it so hard for me to exert control in this situation?  Why was I reluctant to interrupt the discussion when I wasn’t during the pilot projects?  Is it my shyness?  Is it a feeling that I’m being rude?  I finally realized that I overcome these feelings when I am comfortable and feel prepared.  I suddenly understood that I’m more able to control a situation when I’m fully prepared.

I arrived at two conclusions –

1)  When you facilitate someone else’s meeting, there is still a lot of preparation.  It can be more challenging to just walk in and facilitate.  It may take less time than your own meeting but you need time to learn what the organizer wants and to become familiar with the topic.  Take time to set up your space if at all possible.

2)  Facilitation is about exerting control. This control means knowing when and how to be in control.  It doesn’t mean controlling every aspect of the meeting.  As we continue our facilitators-in-training process, I need to learn when it is appropriate to redirect a conversation and when to let a conversation continue.  Continuing the discussion might achieve the desired end.  Finally I need to learn how to reach my comfort level so I can facilitate in situations that aren’t my ideal.

Posted by Deirdre Routt, Facilitator-in-Training

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. strategicimp
    Jul 16, 2014 @ 16:35:28

    Amazing insight. Thank you for sharing this wonderful learning experience. Thank you for learning from it :-]


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