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According to Lucid Meetings, there are 16 types of business meetings:
Look at the table above. In almost all of the meeting types listed, you don’t need a facilitator be successful. New hire training? Press briefing? Client QBR? Manager One-on-One? No facilitator needed.
But retrospectives? Absolutely. 100%. No question. You need a facilitator. Why?
Retrospectives fall into a special class of meetings that rely on “participatory group learning.” Anytime you get a group of individuals together and ask them to analyze together, problem solve together, or make a decision together, you are in a participatory learning environment.
Most meetings don’t fall into this bucket. Retrospectives do.
What makes “participatory group learning” require a facilitator? Well, let’s analyze what would happen without a facilitator: the most extroverted person or the most senior person on the team will likely speak up first. Their ideas will — consciously or not — bias the rest of the group. The next person to speak will build on the first idea (or challenge it). Either way, the conversation is now anchored to the first idea that was shared.
But is that first idea the best idea to discuss? Not necessarily. To be clear, you might get lucky. The first idea might be the right one to discuss. But that’s an assumption that is unlikely to be true, all the time.
That’s where facilitation comes in. Instead off hoping you will have a constructive conversation that focuses on the right topic at the right time, the facilitator is responsible for creating an environment that ensures this happens.
More specifically, according to Sam Kaner, author of The Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, facilitators have four responsibilities:
1. Encourage full participation
Facilitators help foster a respectful and safe environment in order to invite everyone on the team to contribute their ideas.
2. Promote mutual understanding
Facilitators help the group understand each other so that they can achieve shared learning.
3. Foster inclusive solutions
Facilitators help the group find solutions that take into account divergent opinions and perspectives.
4. Cultivate shared responsibility
Facilitators help empower the group to take ownership over the outcomes of the meeting.
This sounds good. If everyone in the retrospective participated, you’d have a broader, more diverse set of ideas to consider. If everyone understood each other, the team can grow together. If everyone took responsibility over the outcome, the group would be more committed to taking action.
That’s the power of a skilled facilitator.