Facilitation Skill # 1 – Encouraging Participation
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.” Henry David Thoreau
One of the most important skills in facilitating team meetings is to be able to encourage balanced participation by all team members.
Why are FMEAs performed with teams?
A key step in preparing for an FMEA is selecting the right team because FMEA is a cross-functional team activity. Doing an FMEA by one person, or with an inadequate or incomplete team, is not an acceptable practice, and inevitably results in poor quality.
As covered in the article titlted Assembling the Correct FMEA Team, there are three primary reasons for the necessity to have the correct team when doing an FMEA.
- People have “blind spots.” A well-defined cross-functional team minimizes the errors inherent with “blind spots.”
- The FMEA analysis requires subject matter experts from a variety of disciplines to ensure incorporation of all necessary inputs into the exercise, and that the proper expertise is applied to the design or process being analyzed.
- One of the indispensable values of an FMEA is the cross talk and synergy between subject matter experts that occurs during the meetings. Well-defined groups can discover things that individuals often miss.
What is meant by “balanced participation” by FMEA team members?
Once the FMEA team is organized, and the team meetings begin, it is essential that each of the FMEA team members participates in a positive and balanced manner in the meetings. This should seem obvious; however, it is not always achieved. Assuming that the FMEA team is properly constituted with the correct representatives from the right disciplines, each member has a role to play in the FMEA. If one or more of the FMEA team members does not participate due to lack of attendance, inattentiveness, lack of participation by introverts, domination of conversation by extroverts, or for any other reasons, the team will not benefit from their knowledge and contribution.
Balanced participation means a positive and relatively equal contribution from each of the team members, at each team meeting.
What are the benefits of “balanced participation” in an FMEA?
Stated simply, FMEA results will be diminished if the team does not encourage and provide positive participation from each of the team members.
The benefits of balanced FMEA participation can be summarized as follows.
- Minimize the possibility that FMEAs will be compromised due to the “blind spots” of individuals on the FMEA team.
- Ensure that the proper expertise is applied to the design or process being analyzed.
- Provide synergy and ideas that go well beyond a single individual.
How can balanced participation be achieved?
I’ll begin by quoting from chapter 10 of my book, Effective FMEAs:
The facilitator must create the environment that encourages all of the team members to express their thoughts, ideas and experiences. Assuming the FMEA team is made up of the correct team members who represent the needed disciplines, the most important tool in successful facilitation is gaining a balanced involvement and participation from each and every team member. In order to encourage participation from the entire FMEA team it is helpful for the facilitator to understand personality types. There are many different personality types but two of the most common types are extroverts and introverts. Extroverts are more likely to talk in team meetings than introverts are, but their contributions are no more important. Introverts tend to do less talking in team meetings, but their contributions are no less important.
When there is an imbalance in participation, it may be necessary for the FMEA facilitator to moderate the input from team participants who tend to be extroverted, if they begin to dominate the dialog. This needs to be done in a respectful way, without discouraging their input. While moderating the input from extroverts, it may be necessary for the FMEA facilitator to draw out the input from team participants who tend to be introverts, if they are not contributing sufficiently. Again, this must be done in a respectful manner. It is the challenge of the FMEA facilitator to encourage and elicit equal participation from every team member, regardless of personality type.
What are the challenges to achieving balanced participation in FMEAs and suggested remedies?
The following are two examples of barriers to achieving balanced participation in FMEA meetings, along with suggested remedies.
- As covered above, most teams will have a combination of introverts and some extroverts, and if the facilitator does not control the discussion, the extroverts may end up dominating the meeting and the results will suffer. The remedy is as follows: Once the extrovert has had a chance to provide their most recent contribution, ask them politely to hold off and listen. Refer to group norms, as needed, to elicit their support in listening. Ask the introverts for their views and contributions. For example, ask the introvert what they think about the topic being discussed or the comments from the extroverted person. Above all, ensure the contributions between all group members are balanced and positive.
- If teams are not well run, attendees can become distracted and inattentive. Distracted or inattentive team members do not contribute to their capability. The remedy is for the facilitator to keep control of the meeting, minimize side conversations, and keep the team members involved in the proceedings.
These remedies require good facilitation skills, which are more thoroughly covered in chapter 10 of Effective FMEAs.
Many facilitators keep a mental record of when and how often they hear from each of the FMEA team members, and encourage input from team members on a relatively equal basis. The job of the facilitator is not to merely listen and record what certain members of the team are saying. The job is to move the team expeditiously through the FMEA process, encouraging and receiving balanced input from each team member, and bringing the team to consensus on what to enter for each of the FMEA columns. If you haven’t heard from person “X” for a while, you might say “what is your opinion about this topic” or some other way to get contribution from person “X.” The job of the facilitator is to move the team through the process, all the while getting balanced input from each and every team member. This requires keeping an informal recollection of who has been contributing, so that input can be solicited in a balanced manner.
The next article in the FMEA Facilitation series is called Controlling Discussion. This article builds on the topics discussed in Encouraging Discussion, and adds further skills about keeping the pace of the meeting moving expeditiousy towards the overall objective, and quickly resolving the most common distractions.