If there’s one thing you can count on with every strategy session, it’s that it will be completely unique. People are involved. Often, emotions get involved too – particularly if the outcome of a decision will impact the success or livelihood of the stakeholders. But uniqueness does not necessarily mean that a session has to be unpredictable. In fact, if you know how to pre-assess a few key factors, you can prepare for a well-controlled facilitation session that is capable of accomplishing its objectives.

During the planning process, four main considerations will help you clarify how complex the session is likely to be so you can put the right resources in place:

  1. Number of Participants
  2. Facilitation Process
  3. Issues & Solutions
  4. Dysfunction Potential

Using these key measures, rate your session on a continuum ranging from fairly basic to incredibly complex. Those that are relatively straightforward likely can be handled by a single facilitator specialist. Sessions that fall on the complex end of the spectrum require the support of a small, select team of highly certified senior facilitators who are able to design a productive session, observe, and iterate as needed to keep the participants working smoothly toward their objectives.


Explaining The Leadership Strategies Session Rating Model

Leadership Strategies works with clients through the following rating model. It provides a necessary structure to define the complexity of the upcoming session, pre-identify risks and requirements, and put the right resources in place. For each dimension, assign one point for each that answers “Yes” to the “Complex” description.

Session Facilitator Rating System

We recommend facilitators based on the rating:

  • 0 Rating Total = All Facilitator Skill-Levels
  • 1 Rating Total = Intermediate or Senior Facilitator
  • 2 Rating Total = Senior Facilitator
  • 3-4 Rating Total = Two Senior Facilitators

A session with more than three complex characteristics requires two senior facilitators. One will facilitate the group. The other will carefully observe group dynamics, considering changes to maximize group performance and keep the session from becoming unstable.

Over more than 20 years as a facilitator our founder and CEO, Certified Master Facilitator™ Michael Wilkinson has led more than 500 sessions. Of those, he points to three that he would like do over. Below, he recounts one of these difficult but valuable learning experiences.


How I Learned the Importance of the Session Rating Model (The Hard Way)

I was enlisted to facilitate a volatile community and political issue. A major urban area was being fined $20,000 a day by their state’s environmental protection department for exceeding the limits of a restricted substance in the treated wastewater the city was returning to the waterway.

The city was using three treatment plants. After an extensive study, they concluded that upgrading only one of the three treatment plants and building tunnels to transport wastewater from the other two plants would be more cost effective and politically expedient than upgrading all three.

The plant chosen for the upgrade was located in a predominately African-American community. The tunneling and required upgrades would have a significant impact on this community. The two other plants, located in Caucasian communities, would be minimally impacted. As you can imagine, the plan was met with significant outcry. Activists in the African-American community insisted against the tunneling.

To address the conflict, the mayor named a panel of 20, including citizens from each community as well as engineers and city planners. They gave the team a facilitator (me) and a deadline for reaching a consensus. To keep the process open, the city televised the meetings and permitted an audience during the proceedings.

Tensions were high and trust was low. It was a circus. Trying to manage the session, process, committee, audience, and charts was overwhelming. At the time, I knew I was in way over my head. I just didn’t know why.

I now know that I could have been prepared. By using this rating model, I would have recognized that I was walking into a Level 4 session. I would have enlisted one or more of Leadership Strategies’ top facilitators to help me guide the panel toward achieving its objectives – with significantly less angst.

(By the way, the panel did reach consensus. The panel members all agreed there was no solution that would satisfy all interests, so the mayor would have to make the decision.)

FindaFacilitator client relationship managers work hard to match facilitators with the specific needs and budget constraints of our clients. An important part of that effort is doing the discovery work to clarify all of the resources – human, logistical, and more – to ensure the ultimate success of each unique session.

If you’re interested in hiring a professional facilitator for an upcoming complicated session, please Contact Us, chat us, or call us at 1-800-824-2850 so one of our client relationship managers can work his or her magic for you.