How Facilitation Skills Improve Meeting Productivity

Meetings take up a significant amount of time for employees in small and large organizations alike. At some point, employees at every level of the organization will have to attend a meeting with other employees to obtain information, participate in a brainstorming session, or for a number of other reasons. Yet when employees are in these meetings, they are costing the company money. If these meetings are unproductive, they will cost companies even more money because additional meetings will have to be held down the road. In order to have a good meeting, one needs:

  • Goals that are thoroughly explained and understood
  • A defined strategy for reaching these goals
  • Employees committed to arriving to the meeting prepared and ready to participate
  • A feeling among participants that their thoughts and ideas are valued

When a meeting lacks the qualities outlined above, it will be unsuccessful and the company will need to hold additional meetings. One way to ensure that these qualities are present is by putting an individual with facilitation skills in charge of the meeting. Since many organizations do not provide meetings training for employees, they usually end up having to hire someone from outside the organization to properly plan and run the organizational gathering. Hiring an individual with facilitation skills will prove beneficial before, during, and after the meeting.

Before the Meeting

The hired facilitator begins by meeting with organizational leaders in order to gain background information including specifics about the company, its industry, its goals, and its employees. This individual will also make sure to ask about the purpose of the meeting so that he or she can set goals for what the gathering should accomplish. This is the time when organizational leaders should inform the individual with facilitation skills about all known personality conflicts within the organization, so he or she can address these during the gathering. Once preliminary research is complete, he or she will type up a summary of this information and distribute it to participants before the meeting begins.

During the Meeting

Facilitators effectively oversee the meeting and make sure that all organizational goals for the meeting are met thanks to knowledge acquired through meeting training. He or she encourages member participation by asking questions to spur discussion and by helping shy employees to come out of their shells. Once everyone has had a chance to speak, the facilitator will use facilitation skills to help the group reach a consensus on which every team member has agreed.

Following the Meeting

When an individual with facilitation skills is put in charge, the meeting will be run so smoothly that fewer meetings are necessary in the future. In fact, the facilitator will ask members of each department whether they understand their role in reaching the organization’s objectives. By giving everyone a chance to ask questions before work begins, the organization is able to keep everyone on the same page.

Once an organization is ready to hire an individual with facilitation skills, it should check an online database of facilitators. Ideally, the company should find a facilitator who has completed meetings training.

Common Habits of Effective Product Designers

Creating new products can be incredibly difficult even for experienced product designers. There are several steps that goes into the process, which also makes failure inevitable at various facets of product development. However, there is a certain set of habits that differentiate good designers from effective ones.

If you want to become part of the latter group, below are the traits and practices that you need to uphold when you design product for the market.

Stick to the mundane.

Products are designed and created for a specific function. Some designers might be compelled to produce something novel, but you need to stay rooted on mundane concepts before attempting to innovate. It starts with an understanding of what the market needs. Put usefulness before innovation when designing a new product.

A lot of designers commit the mistake of focusing on novelty above function in an effort to make quick profit. As a result, they forgo important elements in product design, such as sustainability and longevity. Make sure to avoid taking this path.

Give value to the product’s function.

A good product is something that can serve the function it was intended for. You can incorporate additional features into the product; however, it must not intervene with the primary function of the product itself. Unless a product can perform efficiently, it is deprived of the ability to compete in the marketplace.

Think about the user.

Excellent designers are sensitive to the needs of its user. There is a very fine line standing between necessary and superfluous features in a product. You must therefore exercise great caution when planning a product’s design before you proceed into the creation process.

Strive for sustainability.

Several products released in the market today are being scrutinized for its contribution to more environmental damage. Hence, you must think about how the materials used and packaging of the product can facilitate more sustainability. Embrace the challenge of protecting the environment when you design product.

Is your product recyclable? How can your product facilitate in natural preservation? Ask yourself these questions and use them as your personal guide.

Reinforce the brand.

A brand is an important component for any business organization. Thus, it should be incorporated into the process of designing new products. However, do not limit yourself with logo, colors, and other emblems of the company. Focus on the mission, vision, and objectives of the organization as a whole and think about how this product can help in achieving them.

Prioritize product merit over clever marketing.

A good product can stand on its own. It does not need clever marketing for consumers to appreciate its value. The market today is saturated with useless products that offer little to no value. Effective designers must overcome the wave of product novelty and focus on competency in the market. If you have a good product, it will be easier to market them without spending thousands of dollars on advertising.

Understand the context of the product’s use.

Before you design product, make sure to perform a thorough market research. Use this as an opportunity to gather information on the behavioral patterns of its intended user. This will provide you with useful insights into what are the necessary features and what features you can forgo.

Leave your legacy behind.

The best product designers are ones that focus on meaningful design solutions. All of their products are designed to create an impact on users and improve their quality of life, thus leaving a lasting impression on the consumers.

Research-Led Teaching: A Personal Perspective

The fact that candidates for jobs in the United Kingdom higher education sector (UKHEs) are continually asked to make presentations on topics such as ‘What are your views on, and experience of, research-led teaching in education?’, ‘How will your research contribute to the delivery of the University’s Learning and Teaching strategy?’ and ‘Describe how your research will contribute, over the next 3-5 years, to the international teaching profile of this University’, indicates the importance and perennial need to link teaching and research in the UKHEs. Additionally, those employed are encouraged to make their teaching ‘more research-led’. From this perennial desire locally, emerges coined phrases such as ‘research-led’, ‘research informed’ or ‘research enhanced’ teaching, which have now become established jargons in the sector.

One University in its learning and teaching policy defines research-led teaching as that which introduces students to the latest findings in their subjects and develops students’ powers of critical insight and intellectual synthesis. This idea is supported by writers such as Tushman & O’Reilly (2007), Anthony & Austin (2008,) Prichard (2000), and Paul & Rubin (1984) who see the role of research and its connection with teaching as enabling knowledge growth and improving practice and/or teaching.

Embedded in this definition is a reason for engaging in research-led teaching that is, to keep students informed of current developments in their chosen field and to aid the development of a cognitive skill. Another reason for engaging in research-led teaching in education and related careers, include the fact that it enables students to effectively function in many educational and related roles such as (Teaching, Educational Management or Administration in schools, Youth work, Community and Charity work, or the caring professions generally) which require:

  • the skill of critical analysis
  • critically evaluating knowledge
  • making rational judgment in light of good evidence
  • gathering and reflecting on the evidence
  • being creative in light of rapid change and uncertainty (Brew 2010 and Brew, & Boud 1995).

So what exactly constitutes research-led teaching?

To answer this question I pull on personal experience ‘in the field’. My experience in this area involves:

  1. Sharing research with students. I do this in four ways:

One, I use personal research reports as teaching material during classes to enrich both postgraduate and undergraduate students’ learning. For example, my 2001 research on the church school relationship in the Cayman Islands resulted in the publication of a book with a similar title. This book is required reading for a module I teach. During specific sections of the module, the work is discussed and students are encouraged to critically think about, evaluate and challenge the claims made.

Two, during teaching, I utilise personal experiences and anecdotes/stories related to my own research to convey points of interest to students. For example, I might tell of interviewing a research participant and her responses, which betrayed her true belief about an educational issue.

Three, in addition to using personal research publications and personal stories during teaching, there is a list of required and recommended readings provided for all modules I teach. It is my responsibility to research the local archive, libraries, journals, and to order text books for all these modules. These readings are discussed during lessons and used to guide and broaden students’ thinking about the subject being studied and to actively engage them in critical examination of literary sources.

Four, I utilised the knowledge gained and data from own research on reflective teaching to construct face-to-face, online and hybrid modules for undergraduate teacher education students. Examples of my research used are:

  • Reflective Teaching and… (Paperback and Kindle Edition)
  • Reflective teaching: Properties, Tool, Benefits and Support (Paperback)
  • Reflection and Reflective Teaching, A Case study of Four Seasoned Teachers in the Cayman Islands (Paperback).
  • Reflective Teaching as Self-Directed Professional Development: building Practical or work-related knowledge.
  • The Role of Reflection in the Differentiated Instructional Process.
  • Valli’s Typology of Reflection and the analysis of pre-service teachers’ reflective journals.
  • A Reflective Approach to Teaching Practicum Debriefing.

  1. Engaging students in enquiry based learning

Firstly, this involves encouraging students to engage in research by making it a required element of modules I develop and teach. By engaging in a small research project, they develop an understanding of the research process; examine the literature; pass judgement about what counts as evidence, and reflect on the evidence (Brew 2010 and Brew, & Boud 1995).

Secondly, I involve students in personal research. For example, undergraduates were involved in searching the literature which contributed to the production of the following piece: Reflective Teaching, Critical Literacy and the Teacher’s Tasks in the Critical Literacy Classroom (A Confirmatory Investigation).

Thirdly, students are required to produce a final thesis as a course requirement in a department of Education for which I was in charge. This further facilitated their induction in to research, for their involvement in the actual production of a high quality research thesis results in a greater appreciation for, and involvement in the research process.

  1. Researching and Reflecting on own Teaching (Scholarship of Learning and Teaching.

In this approach I am involved in researching and reflecting on my own teaching and the students’ learning via action research or applied research, which involves identifying a learning/teaching problem, researching the problem, applying the solution to my teaching and publishing the results. Current examples of this occurrence are:

  • Encouraging Secondary Students’ Deep Reflection-on-learning: a case for a Reflective Approach to Student Learning Evaluation.
  • Reflective Teaching and Disruptive Behaviour in Regular High School Classrooms in London, England.
  • Teaching Tasks and the composition of a ‘piece’ using music technology in the classroom: Implications for the education and training of teachers.

I reflect on or critically think about my own teaching. Via this process, I reflect on what steps need to be taken to improve the learning and teaching process, using a variety of evaluation methods (i.e., reflective journals, students’ evaluation form, and personal and peer observation) and then act on them in practical ways.

Here are a few strategies for encouraging and enabling research-led teaching

The development of a culture of research is one way of encouraging and enabling research-led teaching in a HEi. This can be achieved by developing and facilitating faculty’s professional development, which enables and encourages them to engage in the ‘scholarship of teaching’. This may include instituting awards /incentives that recognize outstanding teaching, based on researching and/or studying ones’ teaching; developing policy and criteria for this recognition scheme; facilitating in-house training in the area of the scholarship of teaching, and organizing a special lecture series by noted scholars to address the idea of the scholarship of teaching.

Developing or facilitating faculty’s engagement in research and publications is another way to encourage and enable research-led teaching in a HEi. Strategies to encourage this may include: building time in the teaching schedule for faculty to engage in research; providing funding for faculty attendance and participation in local and overseas conferences; developing policies to regulate faculty attendance and participation in local and overseas conferences; providing internal forums for faculty to showcase their research, for example, a lunch hour series that is broadly advertised, where faculty can talk about and present their research ideas for discussion, and present research that they have completed; encouraging internal review of publications that faculty are planning to submit to journals or conferences, and encouraging students’ research by requiring (where appropriate) the completion of a thesis or portfolio.

Other ways to encourage and enable research-led teaching in a HEi is to encourage consultancy work by faculty by showcasing to the local university and wider community their credentials, experiences and achievements; hosting and organizing annual or biannual conferences at the University to address issues relevant to education; and using the University’s website to display faculty research and scholarship achievements.

References

Anthony, E. K & Austin M.J. (2008). The Role of an Intermediary Organization in Promoting Research in Schools of Social Work: the Case of the Bay Area Social Services Consortium. Social Work Research 32(4) 287-294

Brew, A. (2010). Imperatives and Challenges in Integrating Teaching and Research. Higher Education Research & Development 29, 139-150.

Brew, A, & Boud, D. (1995). Teaching and research; establishing the vital link with learning. Higher Education, 29, 261-273

Paul, C.W and Rubin, P.H. (1984) Teaching and Research: The Human Capital

Paradigm. Journal of Economics Education 15(2), 142-147

Prichard, R. (2000) Future Directions for Research in Caribbean Higher Education Institutions. Chapter 11 in Higher Education in the Caribbean: Past, Present & Future Directions. 251-265, ISBN 9789766400798

Tushman, M & O’Reilly III, C. (2007). Research and Relevance: Implications of pasteur’s quadrant for doctoral programs and faculty development. Academy of Management Journal 50(4), 769-774

A Meeting Facilitator Should Come From Outside the Organization

Organizations of all sizes have meetings. These gatherings are a way to get different members of the organization on the same page; and they are also a great way to evaluate current strategies or brainstorm new ones. However, unproductive meetings cause the company to hold even more meetings as resources are continually wasted. By some estimates, the average American worker spends 100 hours per month in meetings. Companies can avoid wasting expensive labor by making a commitment to holding more productive meetings. The best way to make this commitment is by bringing in a meeting facilitator.

When a company works with a facilitator, it sends the message that these meetings will be productive. The first thing that a facilitator will do is sit down with organizational leaders to determine why the meeting is necessary. In some cases, this research might show that a meeting is not the best way to address the problem. When the meeting facilitator determines that this type of gathering will benefit the company, the professional will begin planning the gathering.

A well thought-out meeting is a more productive meeting, so every facilitator will prioritize the planning phase. He or she will work with organizational leaders to outline objectives that need to be met during the meeting. These objectives can then be used to structure the rest of the meeting, by deciding: the types of questions that a facilitator asks, or who is asked to take part in the discussion. Once the facilitator has determined who needs to attend the meeting, he or she should make sure that each individual is able to attend. When a key decision maker is busy, many companies opt to hold the meeting without them, but this is a huge mistake. The end result is that employees will waste time in a meeting that will not produce a final decision.

Next, the meeting facilitator will distribute a summary of the information that he or she has learned. This information might include meeting goals and background information that will be used during the meeting to make decisions. By giving each organizational member access to this information, the facilitator ensures that everyone will be on the same page when the meeting starts.

During the meeting, attendees will understand why it is best to outsource the task of facilitation. The meeting facilitator must: lead the group discussion, ensure that each individual has a chance to speak, and direct the group to discuss certain ideas. A facilitator who comes from within the organization is likely to sway the direction that the discussion takes due to his or her own biases. Additionally, some team members will be reluctant to share thoughts or go against the leader’s opinion if they think that they are jeopardizing work relationships. An outside facilitator focuses on the problem at hand, and guides the group to a solution by asking for a consensus and ensuring that everyone is given the chance to speak. This ensures that meetings are more productive, which means that less meetings are necessary in the future.