Lean and Continuous Improvement has come a long way since its debut in the Manufacturing world, today its grown exponentially across disciplines and has manifested itself into some “unusual” environments such as Higher Education and Healthcare. Often, a company’s lean journey begins by hiring a consultant from a firm of some sort to come in and teach the principles, the tools, and the applications of lean. These consultants are the facilitators that introduce, train, and coach a company for a short period of time until they eventually leave and its in the hands of the company to make use of the knowledge they just gained. A consultant that needs a little more practice may leave the company confused, moderately ready to keep going or frustrated. A good consultant will leave the company hooked, engaged and eager to sustain a lean environment. The power of a good consultant, a good facilitator, can make a difference in the outcome. This remains true when facilitating a kaizen event internally, the skill of the facilitator can have an impact on the outcome and the long term sustainment of the improvements.
Here at Michigan Technological University, we are very fortunate to have over 40 volunteer facilitators on our campus, all from a wide range of departments. These facilitators are faculty and staff that have voluntarily dedicated thousands of hours cumulatively, outside of their own work schedules, to help the Michigan Tech campus grow towards becoming the best that it can be. They have been trained extensively, and have made themselves available to: coach lean projects on campus, share their skills, host workshops, facilitate kaizen events on campus, and remain available to the people they’re helping for as long as they are needed. Being able o work with them during my time here at Michigan Tech has made me very fortunate as well since I have been able to learn a lot from them.
Our office, the Office of Continuous Improvement, hosts an annual facilitator training for 18 individuals to complete face-to-face over the course of six months. Once completed they begin their facilitating duties on campus. Something I’ve come to learn is that these individuals, yes they now wear the hat of “facilitator,” but they are still normal human beings, and normal human beings get nervous. We all bring our own baggage with us, our own insecurities, struggles, and “what-if’s,” rational or not, this is reality. Considering these nerves, I began to ask myself, so what makes a good facilitator?
A Good Facilitator is Someone who:
- Goes into the meeting with no preconceived notions of what will happen
- Goes in with the mentality of a coach, rather than a mechanic
- Keeps the conversation focused on the defined scope of the event, but still captures other ideas to validate them
- Follows-up with their team
- Ensures that all voices are heard equally by empowering each individual accordingly
- Enforces a blame-free, mutual respect environment
- Remains professional and unbiased
- Manages the group dynamic
- Is knowledgeable in conflict management strategies
- Doesn’t make assumptions
- Asks open-ended questions
- Engages the entire group in the conversation
This list is no where near complete, nor is it to say that one person holds all of these aspects, nor does one person lack them all, but this is the general consensus that I’ve found in three years of working with facilitators and seeing the end result of many events. Working with people you don’t know can be intimidating, but none of the things I listed above are things you need to be naturally gifted in, you just have to try.