Lead, Follow or Facilitate

By William Kendy

The sales manager who fails to take control of a meeting may leave the door open to chaos. Except… if the sales manager takes the role of facilitator rather than that of commander. “Facilitator?” you ask. What is that? Some psychobabbling soft-soaper who just can’t get an unruly sales team under control? Hardly.

According to experts in the field – experts who will tell you that facilitation is really just a fancy Latin word that means “to make easy” – a meeting facilitator can accomplish more, under certain circumstances, than a control freak who doesn’t allow the group any input. Such an over-controller can actually stifle positive ideas and creative solutions.

Since the ultimate goal of an effective sales meeting is to create a group of engaged, listening, learning and empowered salespeople, the facilitator role is worth a try, according to consultant Bob Tomlinson. But, he cautions, how effective you are as a facilitator depends upon your style.

He says that there are basically two approaches managers can take. One is the “command and control ” style where a manager tells people what to do and how to do it. The second is a manager who has the guts to delegate authority to ground troops who are ultimately responsible for getting the job done. Reps, in other words.

“When the manager delegates work to salespeople and they’re responsible for getting that work done, the sales manager’s role is to make it easy for his or her staff to do what they need to do,” says Tomlinson. “A good sales manager gives support and creates an environment for success.” And that can apply to meetings as well as to field results. But where does a manager begin?

According to Tomlinson, “Break the meeting into small discussion groups with team leaders who will speak for the group. Prepare a list of discussion topics, problems to solve, customer concerns, etc. Give teams a time limit and a goal to come up with say, three concrete suggestions. Then bring them back to the floor where each of the three groups get to talk. Now you’ve made it easy for every single person and group to participate and speak out.”

If control is your thing and you can’t bear the thought of anyone else uttering a word or making a suggestion, the facilitator role may not work for you. If, however, you are open to new ideas and you can pry yourself free from the podium for a few minutes, consider letting the reins fall from your hands for 10 minutes out of your next five meetings. And see what happens.

Bob Tomlinson is managing partner of the Quality Consortium and conducts facilitation seminars for the American Management Association (The Effective Facilitator). He can be reached at 1-973-686-1471.