171: Good Conversation

171: Good Conversation


I'm teaching a class on the art and science great facilitation with a former Meta colleague. Here's why it matters and the 5 skills of great facilitators.

Cultivating Resilience is a weekly newsletter about rebounding from setbacks and reinventing the future—by 3x founder and executive coach Jason Shen.
I'm teaching a workshop about the art and science of facilitation with mindfulness teacher and long-time ex-Meta manager Miroo Kim. Join us on Oct 4th → Find Your Inner Facilitator.

I still remember the day the news hit that Meta was considering layoffs. The first time around in October. It was a Sunday night and I had just gotten home after having dinner with my parents who were visiting from out of town.

I spent much of that evening trying to back up personal items from my work computer. On Monday, more details emerged about shake up, which made it all seem more real.

And then on Tuesday we had a team meeting.

Do you address the elephant in the room? I chose to do so, acknowledging that we didn't know what would happen but change seemed very possible.

I used a polling tool to build a word cloud of how people were feeling. The answers ranged from "anxious" and "uncertain" to "tired" but also "hopeful" and "curious". It's unlikely people would have said all that explicitly in conversation, but when given a chance to share, they were dying to share and feel solidarity.

Having survived an initial round of layoffs at Etsy only to hit by the next round, I knew that the culture would be affected by the mass departures. It feels bad both for the impacted and those who remain to have this abrupt separation with no acknowledgement that it's even happening or that it doesn't necessarily feel good.

As a PM, EM, or tech manager, your job is to support individual contributors and maximize their collective contribution to the company:

By getting them to work together as a team.

Meetings are one of the key where is the team comes together—to be seen, heard, and felt. But it requires finesse. It requires the skill of facilitation.

The layoffs hit the team hard, with five out of the seven engineers affected initially, although several of them were able to recover their position.

I even made two videos about the experience in letter #129.

129: Layoffs at Meta
Featuring 2 🎬 ’s with thoughts from me before and after the layoffs went down.

No one on the core team quit, or tried to change teams, though some got reorged without consent. And morale and productivity stayed relatively high (even as it generally tanked across the company).

Moral of the story: great facilitation skills can make a big difference when things are

On Wednesday, October 4th, my friend, mindfulness teacher, and former Meta colleague Miroo Kim and I will be teaching a hands on workshop about the art and science of facilitation, where we teach and practice the 5 skills of great facilitators: preparing, inviting, redirecting, synthesizing, and acknowledging.

Find Your Inner Facilitator 


The 5 Skills of Great Facilitators

As I mentioned in #162 I See You, great meetings allow people to be seen, heard, and felt. And great meetings emerge from great facilitaton. And like most things, facilitation is a skill that can be learned.

The illumanti triangle of great meetings lol from my video "Don't Cancel All Your Meetings"

1. Preparing

  • Agenda-Setting—making sure the most important topics are discussed early (sometimes quick decisions or updates can go first)
  • Time-Tracking—having a rough sense of how long everything should take, and making real time decisions based on how the discussions are going about what to cut or change up
  • Informing—people should be invited with enough notice, be aware of the agenda, and know their role if they are expected to lead or engage beyond typical

2. Inviting

  • Asking good questions—"What do you all think?" is not as good as "What else do we need to make a decision?" Better questions spark better answers.  
  • Keeping quiet—a great deal of what a good facilitator does is allow silence to draw people in. Be comfortable in the silence. Smile, look expectantly.
  • Calling in—sometimes people need a nudge, great facilitator use subtle language to draw them out: “you’ve been quiet, wanna share what you are thinking?”

2. Redirecting

  • Making space—diversity of voices lead to more creativity and more effective problem solving. Great facilitators know how to gently hold space when loud voices threaten to dominate "Hey, I saw So-and-So wanted to share so can we hear from them?"
  • Cutting off—sometimes the discussion is veering off track or diving into minutiae. This is when you gotta bring people back "I love what you're saying but I need to make sure we resolve the issue at hand"
  • Resetting—sometimes a typically chatty group is unusually quiet and something is amiss. By calling it out "Hey what's going on y'all? Is there something I'm missing here?" you might be able reveal what's under the surface.

4. Synthesizing

  • Summarizing—after a lively discussion the best way to move forward is with the facilitator recapping the key points: what was expressed, what was agreed to, and what needs further exploration
  • Assigning—this is one of the most contentious synthesizing challenges of discussion: who is going to do what by when. A great facilitator knows or figures out the responsibilities of the people in the room so things can be assigned quickly and clearly.
  • Note-taking—writing while people are talking is hard but the best facilitators take near-real-time notes or write up notes shortly after so they can be shared out with participants and anyone who missed out.

5. Acknowledging

  • Responding—people may have feedback about the meeting, constructive or not, and a great facilitator takes that in stride. They make the person feel heard so they can let go of the critique and the discussion can move on.
  • Thanking—meetings sometimes involve pre-work, often involve follow up tasks, and always take up time and energy. A great facilitator acknowledges this with a line like "I really appreciate you all for being here and making progress this tough problem" to make participants feel like they matter
  • Celebrating—sometimes a meeting can result in a real breakthrough. Great facilitators make sure that win is recognized and felt by everyone. "I really think we have what we need to make this project a huge success. Great job everyone!"

There's a lot more to facilitating than these skills but hopefully you can see how passionate I am about this topic. And if you're interested in learning more about this important skill, join me and Miroo on October 4th!


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