We worked with the Marketing and Client Services team at law firm Allens to strengthen their ability to facilitate multi-stakeholder meetings for their clients.
Julie Barber, the head of Business Development at Allens, invited us to work with her team to deliver a training session focussing on the microskills and subtle distinctions that exist under the banner ‘facilitation’.
The team had a number of focus points that they wanted to develop, including:
- How do you hold and maintain attention in a room full of the county’s experts in highly technical areas from banking, information security, AI, securities and the low-carbon transition when you aren’t a subject matter expert but a process facilitator?
- How do you act as an incisive and skillful interlocutor for your legal team and the client’s counsel when you aren’t a lawyer yourself?
- How do you help clients collaborate across disciplines to achieve outcomes that ‘experts’ themselves might not have produced alone?
Given the level of experience within the team, this session was more than an introduction to facilitation. We zeroed in on crucial bottlenecks in their facilitation including managing dominant voices, navigating process vs. subject matter expertise and when there’s an elephant in the room but you’re not sure whether you’re the one to name it.
We invited the Allens Marketing and Client Services (MCS) team to ‘get diagnostic’ (a play we’ve borrowed from the Adaptive Leadership approach) and listen for the ‘song beneath the words’. For example, when you notice the meeting or discussion is getting mired, what’s the melody? Is it an unmet need for emotional validation, an implicit request to draw out the contrasting perspectives or a need to animate an idea that’s sitting sub-surface?
We reckon facilitation is the unsung hero of leadership practice. Leadership is a practice that enables groups of people to listen more deeply to the melodies all around us with an ear to helping shape the next key change or chord shift. Facilitation, when practised with heart and smarts, can draw out insights, perspectives, ideas and decisions that would otherwise remain unheard.
It was a treat working with the Allens MCS team to discern the dynamics that underpin their client engagement and find ways of improving their awareness and dexterity facilitating multi-stakeholder project meetings. They were a joy to work with.
“We recognised that our senior team members were being asked to facilitate sessions more often – and we know that there is real skill involved in doing this well. Polykala helped us to recognise the various scenarios (from pure facilitation to training to presenting to chairing meetings) and helped us to understand the mindset and the skillset that help underpin each. The team left the session feeling more confident in their ability to prepare and confidently facilitate. And the Polykala team were terrific to work with – generous, empathetic and flexible.”Julie Barber – Chief Marketing Officer, Allens