Partnership or network working meetings present a real communications challenge – for the facilitator, facilitation team, and the participants.  How to increase understanding, a sense of trust, develop consensus, encourage camaraderie, and see practical, high-value outcomes?

There may be careful if not meticulous preparation by the facilitator and possibly a leadership group.  Yet the face to face meeting of potential or active partners is predictably a rather intensive time – particularly for those facilitating.   History of relationships and how those play out in the meeting; complexity of the issues being considered; keeping the end goal or purpose of the meeting in mind, and facilitating the process of individual ideas becoming a practical action plan in.  There is a lot to think about!  And, the longer your working meeting the more these issues are compounded.

Let’s assume that, as a facilitator or facilitation team, you have:

  • Met with or talked with a substantial number of the people in the meeting and, so, have a reasonable idea of their views, priorities, and concerns.
  • Developed a meeting agenda in advance (making clear the meeting purposeand how the meeting process will unfold, not what the specific outcomes will be!)
  • Circulated this agenda in advance encouraging feedback/input.
  • Within the first hour of your meeting taken the time to review this agenda which, hopefully, all have previously read.

So, now we are all roughly “on the same page.”

Keep in mind the vital action sequence on the road to good, agreed outcomes that will actually be implemented.  Those in your meeting must experience:

  • Participation – they have to feel they are being heard
  • Engagement – they have to actively take part in the work being done
  • Ownership – they have to feel they believe in the agreed action plans
  • Commitment to action – Make some type of personal commitment toward implementing the plan to realize the vision

You may have had some type of advisory or planning group leading up to the meeting.  But it is critically important for participants to know that what is being done and how it is being done is not just your idea and that they are expected to simply follow your leadership.  To avoid this and to see better outcomes with lasting results here is a technique that has been proven invaluable many times.

Engage a few participants, say 3-4, with whom you’re acquainted and who you know come from varied backgrounds and, potentially, holding various ideas.  These may or may not be from your advisory or planning team.

At the beginning, as part of the agenda review, introduce these people as the meeting’s’ ‘Listening Team;’  Let participants know this team will be meeting daily and are ones to talk with if participants have ideas or issues which they don’t or prefer not to raise in open session.  Then, make sure that you, as facilitator or facilitation team are meeting with this group, say around lunch, or afternoon break.  And possibly before heading to bed –allowing their feedback and input to shape the next day’s work.

This approach does several things:

  • Extends your ‘eyes and ears’
  • Shares the burden of hearing what the participants and God are saying
  • Says that you welcome feedback and actively encourage it
  • Increases your personal credibility as it’s clear hat you are listing to the wider group
  • Raises your confidence as to what is “really going on” in the meeting
  • Suggests the kind of values the partnership or network has
  • Sets a tone and precedent for the next stages in the life of the partnership or network.

Make sure that the Listening Team can sense that their input is being fed back to the wider group – except where sensitive issues call for a more private communication.  Participants need to know that when they speak, you listen.

Some of those in your Listening Team, due to their visibility and engagement, may become part of any on-going working or wider facilitation team – carrying the vision forward.

And, of course, a final thought; all of this must be grounded in prayer: an external team specifically committed to praying for the initiative, prayer (often in small groups) during your working meetings, and your own prayers – acknowledging that any initiative like his is a “Good-sized” challenge in which Stan is an active enemy.

Stronger communication leads to greater trust, engagement and stronger outcomes!