As I learn more about (real/proper) facilitation, I’m discovering the conflict of interest that exists between being a facilitator and being an expert. In the last year or two, I’ve been investigating facilitation as a way to make meetings, design reviews, and design generation activities go more smoothly.

What Challenges Have I Faced?

In the past, I’ve faced challenges during review meetings in keeping people on track while at the same time reviewing the current deliverable. For example, in a meeting I’ll be reviewing any personas, site maps, wireframes, content strategy plan. With bigger site maps and a larger number of wireframes, it can be difficult to keep the meeting focused on the wireframes. It can also be difficult for others to let me get through my presentation and overall thought process; instead, they want to comment on the thing in front of them, without having the overall picture. One line of thinking reasons that, “The user wouldn’t get the whole perspective, so I’m commenting like a user would.” In reality, a stakeholder is not a user and has a different level of insight into the project. A stakeholder will always have more insight into a project than a user.

[box type=”shadow”]As an aside, once I was doing a wireframes presentation, asked the group to let me get through the wireframes and then I would take comments. At the end of the first wireframe, the client told me, “I’m going to comment now. Waiting doesn’t work for me, so I’m not going to wait…” and she launched into her tirade. I frequently encounter questions of, “What about this?” and I almost always respond with, “We will get to that momentarily.” [/box]

What Internal Struggles Have I Faced?

As an IA, it has been difficult to both run a meeting as well as present content in a meeting. I like to set up meetings, invite people, set the agenda, give the introduction, give the presentation, and wrap up. Yes, you can see, I like to control the meetings and I rarely trust that others will keep the meeting on track and ending on time. However, I’ve also been in meetings where discussion has raged on and on, but no one steps into table the topic and allow people to follow up after the meeting. I’ve been the one to say, “I think we’re getting off track of the meeting purpose, so let’s table this and we can follow up after the meeting.” (Normally when I say this, people are happy to move on, knowing that the item won’t be forgotten.)

What Did the Facilitation Workshops Teach Me?

Surprise of all surprises: a good facilitator can’t also be a content expert. A content expert is simply the subject matter expert interested in the outcome of the meeting. You can’t play both roles at the same time. A facilitator is interested in how it is being discussed. A content expert is invested in what is being discussed in the meeting. When a content expert is invested in the outcome of a meeting, she can’t be impartial and run the meeting according to good process. A facilitator needs to ensure everyone is heard, but a content expert might have an agenda to put forward.

The UX Challenge

It’s really difficult in User Experience to have enough knowledgeable resources to run a meeting smoothly, to stay on track, and to have a good process throughout the meeting where everyone’s opinion is heard. My call to action for myself and other UX practitioners is to recruit someone who can run the meeting while you can focus on the content of the meeting. This other person can be coached on what you need from the meeting and how to set up the meeting properly so the attendees adhere to the process. For example, if you’re running a design idea workshop, someone can run the process while you contribute and review the ideas being generated.

Alternatively, if you’re not close to the design, you can step back and run the meeting. For example, say you’re working on a larger project, you’re not responsible for creating the wireframes, but they need to be reviewed. The wireframes creator can be the content expert while you can run the process of the meeting.

Conclusion

While this idea was really hard to wrap my head around and I kept thinking, “Who is going to help me? I’m a UX team of one!” I came to realize that I should strive for this goal to make the meetings easier and more effective.

Read all the Key Pointe posts on Facilitation.