I spoke at two conferences within these past two weeks – (1) IIBA Chicagoland Business Analysis Develop Day (ChiBADD) and (2) Data Modeling Zone (DMZ2017). At multiple sessions at each conference, a skill-set that is critical to the success of Business Analysts and Data Modelers kept coming up – facilitation skills, also referred to as “soft” skills. I also facilitated a “Data Hack-a-thon” at DMZ2017 and the only skill-set listed that was common to all 11 tables was “facilitation”. At ChiBADD, Bob Prentiss (Bob the BA), in his keynote presentation, called Business Analysts “Facilitators of Understanding”. There is a shift. Let’s explore.
After years of promoting group facilitation skills as a must-have skill-set to any role, I can say that people finally are listening, e.g.,
- Agile recommends facilitation in every aspect of a project.
- Data Modelers recommend facilitation in engaging the business in building business data models.
- Business Analysts are realizing that facilitation is required for effective requirements elicitation.
Yet some people don’t get that learning facilitation skills is about developing a skill-set that is essential to their job. Business Analysts, Project Managers, Data Modelers, Six Sigma Green Belts, Strategic Planners, and others who don’t develop this skill-set are not prepared for today or the future. Unfortunately, too many people also believe that they have effective facilitation skills (“soft” skills) because they’ve presented or get along well with people. Not so…
Facilitation skills are a broad mix of skills. Some critical skills include:
- Active listening – Hearing what others are really saying.
- Group dynamics – Developing trust, teaming, and authentic collaboration amongst the group.
- Dealing with difficult people – Turning difficult people into productive contributors.
- Communication skills – Knowing “how to” present yourself ensuring that what you say is heard and understood.
- Critical thinking – Pulling together the fragments of the message into a whole to form a better understanding helping people synthesize what has been said.
If you believe that you can learn this skill-set on the job, you are missing out. Learning on the job is a hit or miss effort where mistakes are perpetuated and there is no consistency – trial and error – and it demeans those people who, through proper training, spent a great deal of effort learning these skills. You must seek out proper facilitation skills training to be successful. Some Agile classes, data modeling classes, business analysis classes, etc., lightly touch on facilitation skills, but these classes focus on the specific technical knowledge required. That’s fine, but not sufficient.
You need an understanding of the “why”, practical applicable techniques, and structured thought processes in order for this must-have skill-set to be effective. Learn group facilitation skills, not because you want to become a dedicated Facilitator (which, by the way, is an option if you so desire), but because you can enhance job performance, drive collaboration, and achieve quality results.