Recently, we completed a three-month project for an organisation where we were engaged to review their workplace culture and values. For the first time, I took on the roles of project manager and lead facilitator. Janice, FNS co-founder and FNS project sponsor, mentored the project team and me. In this article, I am sharing my key learnings from this project from both the project management and workshop execution perspectives.
1. Start with a Clear Project Plan, Schedule and Role
It is crucial to identify the project’s objectives, outputs, and outcomes right from the beginning and define the roles of the project team members from both the client and FNS. Listing a detailed project schedule that includes all project meetings, surveys, and workshops provides clarity to the project team and serves as a guide throughout the project journey. Although changes occurred along the way, adjustments were made as needed.
2. Ensure the Client Project Team Is Fully Aware of the Schedule
To ensure that everyone on the client project team, especially the project manager, is aware of the schedule, it is important to block their calendars in advance. We scheduled weekly project meetings on a fixed day and time each week, except for weeks when we had workshops. If a meeting is not necessary in the week, we cancelled it. It is easier to cancel than schedule a meeting.
3. Ensure Advanced Booking of Venues and Resources
It is crucial to book venues and participants’ schedules well in advance and secure all necessary resources for planned events. Our experience with a client’s project manager who neglected to arrange meeting room bookings demonstrated that failing caused delays and disruptions to the project schedule. To prevent similar incidents in the future, we adopted a proactive approach by meeting with the client’s project manager early on and thoroughly reviewing the schedule at each project meeting. This helped ensure that all parties involved have a comprehensive understanding of the schedule and take the necessary actions to prevent hurdles caused by oversight in logistics management.
4. Commit Time and Effort as a Project Manager
As a project manager, I find it essential to be willing to invest both time and effort into the job. This involved various tasks such as preparing for each project meeting, survey and workshop. Before each event, it is necessary to prepare the 3 Os, (Objectives, Outputs, and Outcomes), create the meeting agenda and PowerPoint slides. If the meeting or session requires facilitation, it is crucial to conduct a pre-meeting/session briefing to our team of facilitators to ensure a smooth meeting flow. After the meeting or session, it is vital to document the output or key discussion points and follow-up actions promptly and send them to the client project team without delay. This has enabled a proper tracking of project progress and helped us prepare for the next event.
5. Have a Detailed Facilitation Plan and Conduct a Full Briefing
Develop a detailed facilitation plan may seem tedious and time-consuming, but it is critical for the success of any meeting or workshop. The facilitation plan serves as a guide for the briefing and the actual workshop, helping the group facilitators to understand their roles and responsibilities during the session. When the facilitation plan and briefing are detailed and clear, the lead facilitator’s job becomes much easier, and the session ran smoothly and seamlessly.
6. Adapt the Facilitation Methods to Meet the Groups’ Needs
Initially, we planned to use a large group facilitation method for the staff workshops. However, after our understanding the participants’ profile, we realised we need to adapt our approach. We brought in additional group facilitators to help capture high-quality discussion key points that the participants were highly unlikely to able to do so on their own.
I learned that regardless of the participants’ size or profile, there are various methods we can use. The key consideration is to select a method that can meet the objectives, produce quality outputs, engage the participants, and complete the session on time with the available resources.
7. Streamline the Workshop Registration and Crowd Control
When designing a facilitation plan, it is essential to ensure that participants registration runs smoothly and on time, especially for a large group of participants. Grouping attendees in advance, providing them with name tags that indicate their group codes, and posting an alphabetically sequenced attendee list outside the workshop room greatly helped us to have a timely start.
8. Be Prepared to Make Changes on the Ground
The following are examples of situations where we had to make changes on-site, despite having a plan:
Firstly, during the venue recce, we had planned on arranging stations with chairs in a particular layout. However, when we were physically at the venue, we discovered certain constraints in the room such as unusable space that were not known during the initial planning. As a result, we had to make a ground decision to modify the stations layout to operate within the venue constraints.
Secondly, in another instance, I had intended to use the wandering flipchart method to identify observable behaviours that demonstrate a selected set of values. However, it quickly became apparent that this process was taking far too long, it took about one and a half hours to process only two values. Thus, we had to quickly switch the facilitation method and reorganise the group facilitators to conduct three concurrent sub-group discussions. During these discussions, the facilitators helped to capture the key discussion points on A5 paper, and we used the affinity method to cluster common ideas generated. This process took about 45 minutes to cover the remaining three values. With this change, we were able to finish the workshop on time and obtained the desired outputs.
From these experiences, I learned the importance of making quick and appropriate on-site decisions to adjust the plan as needed to achieve the meeting objectives.
9. Establish a Realistic Reporting Schedules
During the last series of staff workshops conducted just before the project closeout, I realised that I had set the report submission date for the group facilitators too close to the project closeout date. As a Lead Facilitator, it is essential to plan backward from the report submission deadline to determine the date when the reports should be submitted by the group facilitators. This will ensure that the lead facilitator will have enough time to consolidate the report without rushing.
10. Document the Output and Key Findings Continually
While working on some of the documentation submitted by the group facilitators, I found that I had to spend a lot of time searching for past emails, meeting outputs, survey results, and workshop records. With numerous versions of documents to keep track of, this task became challenging and time consuming. The lesson I learned from this experience is to document the output and key findings on a continual basis and file each of them systematically.
Our project has successfully accomplished all its objectives and has produced high-quality outputs within the designated timeline. We have received positive feedback from the participants, which is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our FNS project team and the guidance provided by Janice. I attribute our success to several factors, including FNS’ availability of a pool of well-trained facilitators and its high standards of working norms.
Although the journey was not without challenges, I am grateful for the valuable lessons I learned along the way. I encourage anyone presented with a similar opportunity to embrace it with enthusiasm and take on the challenge.
This article is contributed by Tham Fun Yuen (commonly known as Fun), the Founder of Engage in Clarity, an organisation that promotes and facilitates practical applications of awareness and human consciousness in the workplace. Fun is the Creator of the Awareness On the Go™ framework with a series of awareness-based programs. He has personally conducted these programs for more than a hundred organizations covering a wide span of industries in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and China. Fun can be contacted at email@example.com.
To learn the best practices of facilitation from Certified Master Facilitators and be part of FNS alumni for access to facilitation opportunities, please check out SPOT on FacilitationTM through FNS website at www.fns.sg or email firstname.lastname@example.org.