Getting Buy-In on a Meeting Process

A facilitator is typically brought in to develop and/or facilitate a meeting process. ‘Process’ refers to “a sequence of steps that have been strung together in a logical way to achieve a mutually agreed to outcome.” Once the process is designed and agreed to by my key client I’m then ready to conduct the facilitation. But wait! Sometimes the person who agreed to my process isn’t necessarily the person I’m going to facilitate – sometimes it’s his or her team, or the Board, or another stakeholder group that my client is representing, etc. And, sometimes I haven’t had a chance to meet this group or get feedback on my proposed process.

Experience has shown me over and over again that when people have a say in ‘how’ they’re going to make a decision or resolve a problem, their degree of participation and commitment significantly increases. So, in order to ensure that the group buys in to a process I typically verbalize the high points of what they’ll be doing during the session, then seek agreement to the process. However, even the best designed process may not be what the group wants.

There are many reasons why participants may not want to buy into a process, including:

  • the reason they’re meeting was not clearly communicated to the facilitator so the process reflects an outcome that is erroneous;
  • the outcome belongs to the manager, not the group;
  • the manager choses you and there’s a lot of baggage between the group and the manager in terms of a lack of trust;
  • participants have been mandated to be there and don’t understand the benefits of participating (ie. the WIIFM – What’s in it for me?);
  • some people just like to be provocative and challenging;
  • the concerns are legitimate based on recent changes you aren’t up on;
  • the reason they’re meeting was not clearly communicated to the facilitator so the process reflects an outcome that is erroneous.

Regardless of the resistance, the facilitator must work through it to ensure better buy-in. Not doing this can result in participants either covertly or overtly sabotaging the process. Trust me – it’s not fun!

Here’s the steps for dealing with resistance to a suggested process:

  1. Never get defensive; this will only stoke a small fire into a large blaze;
  2. Hear what the resistance is (i.e. allow for venting). Ask “tell me what concerns you?”
  3. Ask probing questions to ensure you understand what the specific concerns are. Demonstrate empathy. Paraphrase back what you heard to clarify your understanding and to validate their concern(s);
  4. After the person has vented, ask “what will help you get over your concerns?”
  5. Attempt to incorporate their suggestions when realistic.

Sometimes, however, suggestions may be unrealistic or not useful. If this is the case, then:

  1. Validate the person’s suggestions by paraphrasing them back to him or her;
  2. State your concern (i.e. my concern is that if we brainstorm any more we may not have enough time to prioritize);
  3. Go back to your original process suggestion, but specify a timeframe in which you’re willing to stop the process and reflect on whether it’s working. State: “in light of the remaining concerns and time left for the meeting, let’s try my process out for 20-30 minutes and then let’s stop and see if we’re making progress. If not, let’s modify or add to the process. Can we therefore begin?” Make sure the group ratifies (agrees to) this before moving on.Note: This approach tends to satisfy the nay-sayers as you’re providing them a chance to challenge the process should it not be working. Once the process is started, and if your process makes sense, the likelihood of being challenged significantly decreases.
  4. Once the facilitation begins, always make sure there is an “out” for the group to vent concerns around your process. This occurs by making a ‘process check’ where you ask the group “is the structure for the meeting making sense?” or “is the sequence of activities logical?” or “is this process helping us to get closer to your desired outcome?”

The more the group participates in the process management of their issues, the more they will be committed to their collective decisions/recommendations.