Whenever I train people in facilitation skills I always talk about my “facilitation scars” and I’ve been known to say during an ice breaker “The one thing I’ve learnt is that it never goes according to the session plan”. I found myself in the middle of a classic example of this a little while ago.

I was running a workshop which was focussed on developing a plan for a 20% efficiency saving off the opex budget. The senior manager who had set this target was coming for an update just before lunch. Half an hour into the meeting the manager in charge got an urgent phone call. He came back into the meeting, asked if he could break into proceedings and promptly announced that the senior manager we were expecting at 11:30 had left the company and been replaced by an interim manager.

Cue gasps of astonishment all round and the obvious questions “Did he jump or was he pushed?”, “Who knows about this and do we need to tell our staff?”. All I was thinking was “What do we do now?”

I resisted the temptation to tear up the agenda, agreed to a break and sat down to mull over the situation. Being detacted was a real advantage – I wasn’t worried about my job or the future of my team. I could see there were opportunities here – if the team could impress the interim manager he might let us carry on with our work rather than start changing the goal posts.

When we regrouped we discussed tactics. The group felt that achieving the original 20% saving was going to be very difficult, they wanted to put forward a growth strategy to increase income rather than cut costs. I was able to structure the session to develop the outline of a phased growth plan, which could be explained to the interim manager. We also developed a communication to send out to staff giving them more information and reassuring them about the department’s position.

It was one of those cases where I really needed to think on my feet but the outcomes were positive and up beat rather than doom, gloom and disillusionment. A good day’s facilitating all round!

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