July 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: Short Cuts July 1998 Current Issue
July 1998
Short Cuts:

Alice Cochran An outsider steps in: Alice Cochran

First, clear your mind of any preconceptions. Imagine lying on a comfortable leather couch. The lights are dimmed to a soothing glow. You're relaxed. Now, it's time to discuss freely your professional frustrations, setbacks and visions with someone you have just met - someone who will attempt to guide you to some solutions.

Now imagine it's your board of directors sharing that couch together, asked to do the same exercise. Now you've got some idea of what it's like to hire a facilitator for your meeting.

Just as some people scoff at the thought of therapy, groups might be wary of hiring an outsider. After all, facilitators have to be intimate with your group's organizational hang-ups, communication problems or other potentially touchy subjects. They will usually design the meeting agenda and see it through on site - even stepping in to silence a talker or coax ideas out of closed-mouthed attendees.

Yet many realize that bringing an objective professional into their midst could be just what the doctor ordered. The Society of Corporate Meeting Professionals, for instance, wanted a "fresh set of eyes" to analyze its current state and look toward the future, says Dori Eskenazi, an SCMP director and public affairs specialist for the Chicago-based John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The Atlanta-based association also wanted a level playing field among participants during discussions. "Facilitators are able to set up rules for conversation that wouldn't normally exist with this group of people," Eskenazi says. "No one wants to offend, but that can hamper the process."

"A good facilitator sees the process and the dynamics of the group without having a vested interest in the end result," adds Alice Cochran, who runs Cochran Consulting and Facilitating in San Rafael, Calif. "They just have to make sure there is a result."

Facilitators may be called in when an organization reaches a turning point: It's either approaching dire straits or tremendous growth, says Dolores Bopp Potterton, principal at Bopp & Associates in Naperville, Ill. In either case, Potterton's challenge is to help the group define and achieve its goals.

Finding a good facilitator is as critical as finding a good therapist. Planners should not only consider experience and qualifications but the questions the facilitator asks when interviewed. Conversations should prompt the planner to uncover issues that hadn't been realized, says Potterton.

Once hired, a good facilitator will conduct in-depth research about an organization and interview participants about their concerns. A detailed follow-up should also be part of the package. Potterton schedules three post-meeting visits - one, three and six months after the initial meeting - to see that decisions made are being put into practice.

For more information, contact the 1,000-member International Association of Facilitators, based in St. Paul, Minn., at (612) 891-3541, or visit the group's Web site (www.iaf-world.org).




"'Batman, The Ride' at Six Flags Great America. You're strapped in and have absolutely no control. You go upside down, twirl around....There's lots of movement and it's very quick."
Nancy Lio
Meetings & Events Manager
Anixter, Inc.
Skokie, Ill.

"It's a roller coaster. Lots of highs and lows, crises and fun, challenges and frights. Most of all, you never know what's coming next."
Pamela Fischer Lackland, CMP
Director Meetings & Conventions
Electronic Industry Alliance
Arlington, Va.

"The Magnum 2000 ride at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Ohio. It hits 65 mph and has a 100-foot drop. It's fast, it turns the world upside down and it's a lot of fun - just like my job.
Michael McCarroll
Business & Financial Manager
Arizona Department of Health Services
Office of Oral Health
Phoenix, Ariz.

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