Facilitative leadership

When I started Wægger Negotiation Institute, I had the opportunity to give myself any title. That was my autonomy when I’m both the founder and CEO.

For me, it was paramount to find a title that would describe what role I should have in meeting my customers, and then for me it was simple – I am a facilitator.

It was a challenge for many to understand what a facilitator is – why couldn’t I just be a lawyer? A both respected and recognized title. In one article I was described as “a so-called facilitator“, and then I understood that it would be just as groundbreaking to run a negotiation institute in Norway as it would be to educate some traditional cultures about what a facilitator is and does.

What is facilitative leadership?

The goal of facilitating leadership is to empower participants to make decisions and to promote better communication and productivity in the group.

In Wægger Negotiation Institute’s work, the participants will participate in workshops and webinars, there are clients we are sparring partners with, and there are parties in a mediation process we facilitate.

Parties in mediation often experience the situation as chaotic and unfocused, and they seek help to facilitate the negotiation process they are in. Participants in a workshop should raise awareness and learn new knowledge and skills, and it is at least chaotic when you have done things a certain way and must honor new ways. Sparring parties often find it challenging to stay focused on tasks they are given, and it is often mentally chaotic to “take down” the right tasks.

In such situations and many others, facilitating leadership can be of good use. It is a suitable tool that gives the parties, participants, or sparring partner the opportunity to make decisions, handle disagreements or conflicts and take responsibility for challenges. It is a proprietary tool because it is an effective way to lead creative processes among high-performing participants.

Therefore, I would like to describe in more detail what facilitating leadership is and how we at WNI use it.  

What is facilitation?

Facilitation is largely about using skills to keep meetings between people focused and productive.

One of the leading teaching members at Harvard’s PON, Professor Lawrence Susskind at MIT, and founder of the Consensus Building Institute, Cambridge, USA, describes what facilitation is in his excellent book “Good for You, Great for Me“.

Facilitation can be viewed as a bundle of meeting-management skills that anyone can employ, such as coordinating the flow of conversation, ensuring that participants observe time limits, cooling tempers when talks get overheated, and periodically summarizing the essence of working agreements“.

At WNI, we train and advise parties who are going through demanding negotiations, parties who are in conflicts in the workplace or in the family or facilitate mediation. Then there are many advantages to using a facilitating leadership style. I find it helps strengthen the parties’ ability to handle demanding negotiations, and meetings, and later lead challenging tasks and projects.

Exercising facilitative leadership involves close cooperation between those of us who lead the group and the participants in the group. Cooperation means that we create a mutual process in which we work with and through other people to achieve what the parties or group consider to be the goal or the goal of the meeting.

Roger Schwarz, the author of “The Skilled Facilitator“, sets out nine “ground rules” or core values in facilitating leadership.

  1. Test assumptions and inferences
  2. Share all relevant information
  3. Use specific examples and agree on what important words mean
  4. Explain your reasoning and intent
  5. Focus on interests, not positions
  6. Combine advocacy and questions
  7. Jointly design the next steps and ways to test disagreements
  8. Discuss issues that can’t be discussed
  9. Use a decision rule that generates the level of commitment that are required

Presence is for me a key characteristic of a facilitating leadership style, and it helps time after time to accept and emphasize diversity and authenticity that means that conflict resolution is not only written in an agreement but the conflict or disagreement is resolved in such a way that the agreement is implemented.

Here are additional characteristics of facilitation I encourage you to use in your upcoming negotiation:

  • give direction without taking control
  • ensuring everyone around the table is involved in decisions
  • balances management of both the content and the process with the group
  • awareness that the process of how a group acts is critical to success and deserves considerable attention
  • includes discussion “of the elephant in the room” to ensure that disagreement is addressed productively
  • encourages open, honest, and respectful dialogue
  • attempts to facilitate so that participants reflect more than they react, and challenges engaged listening so that all voices are heard
  • listening for and seeking to help others see connections between what is happening here and what has happened in the past
  • everyone involved must take responsibility for making decisions and completing the agreed tasks

These are values and good reminders for me, and I hope this can be of use to you as you enter your upcoming negotiations, and conflicts, and when facilitating constructive dialogues in mediation.

Being a facilitator is about connecting people, addressing the problems they’re struggling with, and helping them create opportunities for the future.