Tips, Videos, Handouts

Someone Neutral in Charge of the Process

On a pier in Portland, Maine, Craig explains the value of neutral facilitation. Fundamental to good group decision making, Craig outlines three benefits of separating the process (the way decisions are made) from the substance (what actually gets decided).

For more on this topic, see Craig’s Good Group Tip: Facilitation.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody! Hey, it’s Craig Freshley here. I am on the waterfront in Portland Maine. I’m about to go in this building and facilitate a meeting. But first I want to tell you about this little concept.

When we separate process from substance the process tends to be better and the substance tends to be better. We have all been in meetings where, like, no one’s in charge. And here’s what happens. First of all, those who seem to know the most know the most about the culture know the most about the unwritten rules; they seem to talk the most. Also those who have a personality type that just lets them be more comfortable talking in public; those people talk the most. And it is far from a level playing field.

Another thing that happens is that even if there is a leader — someone in charge — but if they’re not neutral, they can manipulate the process to make sure that they get the outcome that they want. Now sometimes this isn’t even done consciously or intentionally, but sometimes it is done intentionally.

There’s a third thing that happens when there isn’t a neutral person in charge of the process, and that is that we each walk away with different memories of what happened and what was decided. When you have someone in charge of just the process, that person speaks for the group. That person writes down the things that we as a group decided in the meeting, and can be that neutral voice in terms of representing decisions of the group.

So it’s not just about someone being in charge, but somebody neutral in charge, levels the playing field for everyone else. When that happens, creativity of the group is maximized, fairness is maximized, and you have both a better process and a better outcome.

Now look, I know that a lot of you are in positions of leadership and you run meetings all the time. You cannot afford to hire a guy like me to come in and be the neutral facilitator. Fine. But there are times when you can be neutral in a meeting even though you are the leader and have an opinion.

Even Robert’s Rules of Order — that is, like, the bible when it comes to majority rule decision-making and what process you’re supposed to follow — it says that the leader of the meeting, the presiding officer, should be entirely neutral. Because even Robert, who made the rules, knows that when you have a neutral leader you get the best outcome.

Okay I’ve got to run in there and be a neutral facilitator for a group of people. Thanks for listing everybody. And I hope that you make good group decisions.

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