The holiday season has passed and by now we’re all fully back in work mode. But there’s no reason you can’t keep that warm, welcoming feeling alive throughout the year, even at your school or workplace. Your meetings may not always feel like a party, but facilitators can learn a lot from great hosts.
“Leaders-as-hosts know that people willingly support those things they’ve played a part in creating—that you can’t expect people to ‘buy-in’ to plans and projects developed elsewhere. Leaders-as-hosts invest in meaningful conversations among people from many parts of the system as the most productive way to engender new insights and possibilities for action. They trust that people are willing to contribute, and that most people yearn to find meaning and possibility in their lives and work.”
– Margaret Wheatley, Leadership in the Age of Complexity: From Hero to Host
Hosts help people connect.
As the host of a party, it’s your job to introduce your guests to one another. Facilitators should intentionally build opportunities for people from different backgrounds to connect with one another, especially when participants don’t already know each other. You know that hilarious inside joke you and your friends can’t stop riffing on? As host, it’s your job to explain the backstory to new acquaintances who aren’t in on the joke. As a facilitator, you should make the extra effort to make new members feel welcome and comfortable. Encourage questions, spell out acronyms and explain jargon.
Hosts can read a room.
A host should be constantly reading the room to anticipate people’s needs. Is the music too loud? Are people cold? Does the guacamole need a refill? As a facilitator, you should also keep tabs on your teammates’ needs. When it seems like people need a break – they do.
Hosts also read the dynamics of the room; supporting positive dynamics, and attending to potential tensions. At a party, you might strategically guide your Uncle Rudy away from his ex-wife and her new partner. In a meeting, attending to negative dynamics is not about avoiding conflict or shutting people down. Instead, you might offer a structure or process to help the team navigate through a negative dynamic. Being aware of social threats and triggers can help you be prepared to quickly react in the moment in a way that allows all members to feel valued and supported.
Hosts get ready before their guests show up.
As best as you are able, try to set up your meeting in a comfortable, aesthetically pleasing environment. Think about what time of day it is (i.e. before or after lunch), where people may be coming from, and how long they’ve been sitting and listening. Try and provide some time for people to take care of their own needs so they can be fully present and engaged.
Energizing music, drinks and snacks can do wonders for your group dynamic.
Hosts let the party happen.
At the end of the day, all any host or facilitator can really do is set the conditions for a good experience, but ultimately it’s the people that end up making the party or meeting positive or not. Facilitators should be thoughtful about how to set the right conditions for people to have a positive experience, be fully engaged – so they’ll look forward to the next opportunity they’ll have to spend time together.