A crucial element for a successful Customer Advisory Board is expert facilitation. After months of planning, design, recruitment and preparation for the face-to-face meeting, poor facilitation will undermine planned outcomes and yield less than desirable results.
A facilitator guides and manages discussions at advisory boards and creates the best environment for peer exchange, while ensuring open dialogue and participation, session objectives are met, and the meeting is on track in terms of timing and flow.
The facilitator encourages participation from all advisory board attendees and ties together ideas and insights, achieving flow and participant buy-in and consensus on the process and outcomes.
- The facilitator must remain unbiased and neutral.
An effective facilitator maintains objectivity and neutrality on topics allowing for discussion and opinions to emerge – without judging or assessing any comments. If the facilitator has too much knowledge or expertise on a topic, it’s helpful to choose another internal facilitator that is unbiased — or even better, utilize an external facilitator.
- Commence facilitation design and prep well in advance of meeting.
Session design begins with understanding objectives and desired outcomes per session, along with the timing and sequence of session activities.
Make sure the advisory board executive sponsor, subject matter experts and all internal key stakeholders are aligned with the session objectives and flow in advance of the face-to-face meeting.
Provide an overview of the facilitation guidelines and process to internal key stakeholders prior to the face-to-face meeting to set proper expectations.
- Set the facilitation ground rules and guide the conversation.
At the beginning of the meeting, verbally set ground rules to all advisory board attendees. Make sure to specify items like: everyone participates, there are no right or wrong answers, respect for one another, no laptops or cell phones and no side conversations. Guiding the conversation involves being 100% present and engaged to actively listen, paraphrase and summarize key points, and encourages all participants to contribute. Constantly ask yourself: Are the session objectives being met? Is everyone participating? Am I being objective? Is anyone not engaged?
- The facilitator skillfully interjects and repositions.
One of the many potentially disruptive forces in an advisory board meeting are CAB members who are dominant or internal stakeholders that feel they need to respond to every comment.
Internal facilitators have the arduous challenge of intervening on a long-winded executive. An effective facilitator skillfully and politely intrudes, shifts attention to someone else, seeks a different perspective and brings the conversation back on track.