Preparing to facilitate a Team Session


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The success of team events or sessions can be more predictable when facilitators gather information from invited participants and stakeholders before planning the agenda, activities, and presentations.  Knowing more about the current issues and expectations can greatly enhance your chances of ensuring the team faces what they need to focus on and deal with that in a constructive way.

The source I am sharing, is a list of pre-session interview questions which could help you get a good foundation about the team: what is working, what could be better and how each of the interviewees sees the situations faced by the team.

Some important notes about pre-session interviews:

Starting right
  • If the team members do not know you (the facilitator) yet, be sure to introduce yourself to each interviewee and mention your role in the upcoming planned session. They may have additional questions about your background and experience in this area and why you are working on the planned session. Be prepared to summarize these points before you get into the interview.
  • Make sure you can explain to what degree the responses will be confidential. You would typically want to share a summary of responses with the session attendees to help set the scene on the day and perhaps use that to initiate a discussion or lead into an activity to address something that was mentioned by several participants during the interview. Will you be word-smithing the responses to protect the identity of interviewees? Or will you share the raw data? You need to be transparent about that.
  • Why are you asking? Be sure to explain how the answers and responses will be used to plan the session and help the team move forward and past any obstacles that may be holding them back.
  • Let them know upfront that their questions about the session will be answered during their time with you (the interview).
Planning your approach
  • Will you interview individuals or groups of individuals that work in a specific department or functional group? Think this through carefully with regards to the advantages and disadvantages of this choice before you make that decision.  I usually recommend that the number of session participants is no more than about 20 – 25 people and I prefer to know each individual’s responses before I finalize my planning for the session. This means I interview each person separately. But I can also imagine that the team/project culture and approach could make it useful to interview small sub-groups within the team.
  • In person or online? I prefer to do the interviews in person to allow me the opportunity to ask follow-up questions on the spot. Sitting with someone and talking through the questions gives you the opportunity to also watch their reactions or pauses after each question. This can indicate whether some topics may be sensitive to the interviewee and again you could choose to ask more questions to better understand the issues at hand.
  • The right number of questions. It is important that the interviews do not become exhausting. Accept that you will not be able to ask every single question that you may have for the planned participants before the session. Some questions are best worked out by the group at the session. Be very selective and critical – ask only questions which will help you prepare for the session. The interviews are not intended to replace the planned group/team session.

The questions in the (download available above) resource range from understanding expectations to identifying possible issues that the team needs to address. It includes some questions which may help with understanding possible issues that could pose an obstacle to team success.  Some of the questions are also specifically there to help team session participants envisage themselves being a positive contributor to the success of the session.

I do not suggest that all of the questions would be relevant to every session that you would plan, as the facilitator. Instead, I suggest that you use the ones that make the most sense for the session you are working on and feel free to add additional questions as needed in order to improve your understanding in the relevant areas that the session needs to cover.

Finally, it is important to realize that just the fact that you are asking questions and providing interviewees an opportunity to discuss their thoughts and impressions is in itself already a change management intervention. You are setting the scene for the session and helping to shape participation before the session. This could greatly enhance group dynamics and ensure the success of the planned session.

Preparing Managers for a Staff Reduction process


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Staff reduction, mass employee lay-offs or a reduction in force, is a critical process. Consequences for not complying with labor laws or not acting and communicating correctly can be far-reaching.

Declining workloads or under-performing groups are some of the reasons that lead to the decision to reduce staff. Not executing staff reductions correctly can expose the company to many liabilities and potentially law suits.

There are several steps to take in this process and in most countries there are specific requirements which may include employee and/or union consultation and involvement and some steps could also be subject to approvals by governmental organizations. In many countries there are very specific justifications that a company has to be able to provide to show that the process of selecting who to lay off was fair and equitable and that no discrimination took place.

It is important that managers understand the correct process to follow for staff reductions and that they are able to for example conduct employee notification meetings in the right manner.

The resource you can download above contains a few slides which may be useful at a manager orientation meeting to ensure the principles and approach to follow with this staff reduction is well understood by the managers. There are also slides highlighting the human impact of staff reductions and the need to ensure that those who remain with the company are supported through the emotions when they see other trusted and well-liked colleagues leave.

Without proper preparation of the managers/supervisors before the notification meetings take place you risk them making incorrect statements or forgetting to make important statements. Sometimes unprepared managers act in ways that could be interpreted as discriminatory. The slides will help you minimize that risk as you first orient managers/supervisors in a group and then have each manager/supervisor work with his/her HR Representative to practice how to conduct the notification meeting correctly during the staff reduction process.

Remember:

  • It is not only the impacted employees who are going to have an emotional reaction to the staff reduction, employees intended to remain at the company may be losing valued friendly connections with peers – even friendships. Be sure to reassure those whom you intend to stay with the company to stop them from looking around for other jobs during the uncertainty that is created in the workforce when a reduction in staff is planned or in progress.
  • It is very important to plan the notification meetings to take place very fast. The shorter the time of uncertainty and people waiting to be called in for a meeting, the better your chances of restoring the morale of the remaining employees and avoid retention risks.
  • During times like these is when your company’s values should drive decision-making and how you talk to employees. Your branding messages can claim honorable conduct and make promises of fair treatment, but it is during staff reductions that you get to prove that you meant it. Employees will remember how you conducted the staff reduction more than they will remember what is written on your posters about company values.
  • (HR/Office Manager) Remember also to check in with the managers and supervisors who conducted the notification meetings. It is tough to tell a number of people that their jobs will go away and watch their emotional reactions to that.

The staff reduction process is tough on everyone and it is vital that you plan it and conduct it exactly according to the rules and laws of the country where the people are employed. Internally you also need to make sure your planning includes an orientation process for those managers and supervisors who have a role in the notification meetings. And most importantly, check in with those who will remain after the notification meetings are complete to ensure that your business activities can resume soon after.

Planning Developmental Assignments – Process and Preparing Assignee


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A decade ago it seemed to be more common for employees to be on developmental assignments for longer periods of time. These days the duration of assignments seems to have become shorter. The required steps are not much different though.

It is vital for the organization to have a clear process around the mobilization, preparation, sustaining, return, development of assignees and there are multiple organizations (internally and possibly externally if outsourced) which need to contribute to the process in order to make the assignment a successful one for the company and the employee

Some of the biggest unintended outcomes of assignments are:

  • The employee (and/or family) did not fully understand what they were getting into and found it too overwhelming at the assignment location – wished to return earlier or resigned.
  • Employee did not understand how the assignment was adding to his or her skill sets or competencies and he or she ended up frustrated and demotivated.
  • Employee on assignment no longer felt connected to the home office and were anxious about what happens after the assignment – wished to return earlier or resigned.
  • Employees (and families) experienced a high level of anxiety associated with the assignments due to inadequate preparation and support before, during and after return to home location.

The process flow shared here shows a simplified version of how a developmental assignment should be planned and executed before mobilization, during and after an assignment has ended. It takes into account the logistics part, which may be an internal organization (Center of Excellence) or an outsourced party, the role of the manager, the role of the employee and how the Business Partner can contribute to ensure the entire process yields the desired outcomes. There are also some suggestions for surveys to capture any feedback to identify useful improvements to the process.

Some additional tips:

  • Make sure that managers are clear on the process, the various steps and the specific roles and responsibilities. Most employees will ask their managers for advice and information first. The role of the manager is very important to ensure future retention of the employee by staying in touch and ensuring the employee continues to feel valued by the organization during and after the assignment.
  • Create or outsource a solid assignment preparation program for employees (and families as applicable). This includes cultural awareness training, language training (if applicable) and developing the right mindset and approach to living in a new country for a period of time.
  • Apply attention and diligence when outsourcing logistics and defining the SLAs associated with mobilization. Lost goods, delays in finding accommodation, faulty or missing paperwork can cause a lot of unnecessary distraction and anxiety on the part of an employee on assignment. Conduct regular audits and have discussions with an outsourcing partner/COE using the surveys as a basis to provide input aimed at improving the experience of assignees.
  • Ensure either the Business Partner or the Manager has discussions with the employees to be sent on the assignment to ensure they understand how to leverage the opportunity to improve on their own skill sets/competencies and how they should contribute to the learning of those at the assignment location and again to the learning of those at the home office upon their return.

Preparation and Training

Training and support in these areas (see below) will help each assignee and his/her family – should they accompany the assignee – the best opportunity to understand the assignment requirements and the local culture better. And having an improved awareness will enable the assignee (and family) to have a solid plan of how they would set-up their start-up activities at the new location for a successful assignment experience and conclusion.

Being sent on an assignment is both an opportunity and a responsibility for the assignee. It can bring out the best and worst in a person as he/she (and the family) face huge life changes compared to life at the home office. The experience can lead to increased maturity, improved leadership skills and understanding and increased knowledge and skills if managed properly. As the manager, business partner or any other stakeholder in the process, it is important you ensure there is a clear process mapped out which details the various steps by process contributor and that each stakeholder is acutely aware of the bigger picture while performing own parts.