Customer Advisory Boards require a skilled facilitator to ensure your CAB meeting delivers the business outcome you and your customers expect and require. Yet, some executives believe that facilitating their own meeting is easy. It is not. In truth, it is easy to be a poor facilitator and jeopardize your CAB without even knowing it. I always recommend companies hire an expert facilitator for their most important customer and partner meetings. However, if you decide to run one yourself, try to embrace these 9 characteristics of the best facilitators.

1) An unbiased perspective: There is nothing worse than a biased facilitator who drives the discussion to a preplanned (and obvious to all) conclusion. If you are a badged employee, you are already biased. You may think you are unbiased, but you bring corporate baggage with you. More than that, your customers will edit their responses to you because of your job title. This inadvertently creates an unbalanced framework for discussion. An unbiased leader creates a neutral zone where alternative points of view can be shared and debated in a respectful manner. This is key to driving a constructive, productive discussion. Be aware of the balance you set.

2) Sensitivity to the feelings of individuals: Creating and maintaining an atmosphere of trust and respect requires an awareness of how people are responding to both the topics under discussion and the opinions and reactions of others. Most people will not articulate their discomfort, hurt feelings, or even anger; instead they silently withdraw from the discussion and often from the group. Sensing how people are feeling and understanding how to respond to a particular situation is a critical skill of facilitation.

3) Sensitivity to the feelings of the group: In any group, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and group “chemistry” generally reflects shared feelings: eagerness, restlessness, anger, boredom, enthusiasm, suspiciousness, or even silliness. Perceiving and responding to the group’s dynamic is essential to skillful facilitation.

4) Ability to listen: One way the facilitator learns to sense the feelings of individuals is by acute listening, both to the explicit meaning of words and also to their tone and implicit meaning. A good facilitator practices “active listening” whereby he or she may repeat, sum up, or respond directly to what a speaker said to ensure the speaker’s meaning was correctly understood by the group. This is very important especially if the speaker was unclear or the group becomes defensive.

5) Tact: Sometimes the facilitator must take uncomfortable actions or say awkward things for the good of the group. The ability to do so carefully and diplomatically is critical. Examples of this include: a group discussion dominated by one person; or a group of silent participants. The facilitator, using gentle tact, will find a way to engage the team so everyone can participate and get the most out of the session. Often times a participant may ask a question, then ramble on to eventually answer his own question. A capable facilitator knows how to diffuse these awkward moments and maintain a productive atmosphere.

6) Commitment to collaboration: Collaborative learning can occasionally seem frustrating and inefficient, and at such times every facilitator feels tempted to take on the familiar role of the traditional teacher and to lead, rather than facilitate. However, a genuine conviction about the empowering value of cooperative learning will help the facilitator resist a dominating role. Likewise a good facilitator is willing to share facilitation with others in the group. The goal is always on conducting the best, most effective discussion. To that end, a good facilitator knows how to temper his or her role accordingly.

7) A sense of timing: The facilitator needs to develop a “sixth sense” for time: when to bring a discussion to a close, when to change the topic, when to cut off someone who has talked too long, when to let the discussion run over the allotted time, and when to let the silence continue a little longer.

8) Resourcefulness and creativity: Each group is as different as the people involved. Despite a well-planned agenda, sometimes the discussions do not unfold as expected. To that end, a good facilitator is able to think on his or her feet. This may mean changing direction in mid-stream, using other creative approaches to engage the group, or entertaining ideas from the group on how to shift the agenda. Good facilitators always have tricks up their sleeves that will help a group move forward while still keeping an eye on the overall objective of the meeting.

9) A sense of humor: As in most human endeavors, even the most serious, a facilitator’s appreciation of life’s ironies, ability to laugh at themselves, and to share the laughter of others enhances the experience for everyone.

In summary, a good facilitator is one of your best allies for ensuring your Customer Advisory Board meetings, Partner Advisory Board meetings, executive roundtable meetings, and planning sessions deliver the business outcome you require. This is true because of this simple reason: it is very difficult to facilitate a meeting yourself when you also want to participate in it as an equal. But not all facilitators are alike. Look for one who has a personality and aptitude to understand your business and your objective. And keep in mind these 9 characteristics.

With a specialty in CABs, Mike Gospe is a professional facilitator with more than 15 years of CAB experience. He’s helped some of today’s most innovative companies deliver more than 100 world-class CAB meetings. He leads KickStart Alliance‘s CAB practice. Interested hiring a great CAB facilitator or perhaps honing your own facilitator skills? Contact Mike