With hybrid now the norm across many industries, business analysts need to bolster their facilitation skills to meet the changing nature of the new workplace.
As one of the core competencies of every capable business analyst (BA), effective facilitation is even more important in the hybrid workplace. Facilitation skills are also essential for BAs to drive their company’s digital transformation.
Here, PM-Partners Senior Consultant Stephen Howard clarifies what facilitation means in the context of BAs, and discusses ways to strengthen your facilitation skills to ensure virtual and hybrid meetings remain as constructive as they do when everyone is in the office.
What does ‘facilitation’ mean in the context of business analysts?
Facilitation means different things depending on who is ‘facilitating’. In general terms, it is the process by which an individual helps a group work together more cohesively. Business analysts often act as facilitators of small groups within an organisation, whether it’s during a typical morning meeting, a team-building exercise, or an environment where the employees need to be more collaborative or agree on a strategy.
Depending on the industry and the size of the organisation, the facilitator may be either internal (a salaried employee) or external (a hired professional). Whatever the case, they act purely as ‘process leaders’, which means they have no decision-making authority, nor do they contribute to the substance of the discussion. Instead, they help the group stay on task and be more productive and results-driven than they would otherwise be without the support of a facilitator.
How BA roles have changed with the shift to hybrid
Pre-COVID, a BA’s role as facilitator was fairly straightforward. The group would gather in a face-to-face setting – typically in a meeting room where they could address the topic without external distractions – and work together until a consensus was reached and/or objectives achieved.
Today, however, many meetings now take place in a completely virtual environment, or with participants split between office and home. As a result, BAs facilitating in this setting are facing a raft of inherent challenges, including:
- Diminished quality of communication as BAs have lost the ability to read non-verbal cues. Most significantly, it’s harder for BAs to empathise with participants, which is an essential quality of good facilitators.
- The lack of structure of digital sessions means it’s harder to hold everyone’s attention.
- ‘Home office’ distractions, such as children arriving home from school, construction noise.
- Not being in the same room as everyone else makes it easier to lose concentration, with participation levels often falling as time goes on.
- Problems with technology can cause the meeting to cut out, participants to lose video and/or audio, or other complications that hamper good facilitation.
Despite these barriers, BAs must still be able to ensure their hybrid meetings are as productive and constructive as possible. Some smart ways to do this are to shorten the length of time of the meetings. Keeping them ‘segmented’ means there’s less chance for participants to lose track of the meeting’s purpose. It’s also worth creating an outline and sharing it with the team before the meeting begins – and making sure that what you working on during the session is visible to everyone. This way everyone is aware of what will be covered and there’s less chance of conversations diverging into unnecessary topics.
Establishing the ‘basic needs’ of remote sessions
To support your teams through the transition to hybrid and remote sessions, a good facilitator needs to establish some basic needs:
- Technology: Not everyone will be proficient at using digital tools to participate in meetings, especially if the organisation has traditionally relied on legacy systems and processes. If someone is unable to use the video/audio features, then perhaps they can share their thoughts in text via the chatbox.
- Group size: Be aware that the larger the group, the more difficult it is to facilitate. This is true in a face-to-face environment, but even more so in the online world – 10 people (or under) is a good number to aim for, with fewer participants allowing more time for everyone to contribute.
- Preparation: It is the BA’s job as facilitator to adequately prepare for each session. Take the time to understand the unique dynamics of your upcoming session, and plan for it to be as inclusive as possible for the different personalities who will be joining. Also be sure to solidify the objectives for the session, what tools you will be using, what level of collaboration you expect, and whether there any risks to the type of environment you will be facilitating in.
- Tools: Experienced BAs use a range of tools that fulfill a specific purpose when facilitating meetings. In the best-case scenario, these will be unobtrusive to participants. Think about how you want to integrate tools like videoconferencing, whiteboards and Kanban boards, as well as specialised tools to help stimulate brainstorming sessions. And make sure all participants know how to use these tools beforehand.
What an effective facilitator can get out of their teams
When a BA uses all their facilitation skills effectively, the group can reap a variety of benefits – whether they are in a face-to-face, hybrid or online-only setting. These include:
- Motivation: Group members want to support the decisions made because of their investment in the process.
- Results: When the group works together, they typically generate better results than they would working on the task individually.
- Productivity: The more that group members want to participate, the more productive they become.
- Contribution: When all members of the group feel they have the opportunity to contribute, that naturally makes them feels like they are an essential part of the team.
- Conflict resolution: The ‘meeting’ becomes a place where conflicts are resolved more constructively and misunderstandings are clarified with minimal friction.
Facilitation skills to adopt in 2022 and beyond
Beyond facilitation in the context of managing groups and running meetings, this skill is also essential for BAs who are helping their companies embrace digital transformation. As the Harvard Business Review puts it: “The rapid spread of technology accelerated by the pandemic has led to a pressing need for businesses and governments to adapt.”
As a business analyst, it’s your job to facilitate these transformations and ensure they result in a successful deployment. From being well prepared and adaptable, to knowing how to set guidelines and manage time, BAs need to adopt core facilitation skills in order to drive their company into the digital future.
An effective business analyst is always learning and looking for ways to improve themselves. In the context of facilitation, you need to constantly upskill yourself to maintain your effectiveness in a group setting and guide your organisation towards its goals. Particularly in a hybrid environment, where you may be managing groups split across the physical and virtual world, building up a solid facilitation foundation and reflecting on the business analysis fundamentals can help you thrive in the post-COVID workplace.
To become a more proficient facilitator or further develop your skill set as a BA, contact the facilitation experts at PM-Partners or call us on 1300 70 13 14 today.