Ever been invited to a meeting or organizational retreat where you were asked to bring your ideas and brainstorm, only to realize midway through that the outcome was predetermined?

You’ve been the target of something called facipulation-a word combined from ‘facilitate’ and ‘manipulation.’

Organizations sometimes invest in planning retreats for team building or exploring new solutions, when, in reality, they only want to convince the team to do what management wants. It’s an approach that devalues employees or partners and erodes trust. 

True facilitation, on the other hand, helps a group arrive at decisions they concluded on their own.

Want to be an expert on spotting facipulation? 

  • The meeting leader or outside facilitator records comments on a flip chart, but only writes down the ones that seem to agree with one direction—possibly pre-determined. 
  • The meeting leader edits participants’ comments instead of writing them as stated. 
  • The meeting leader selects for discussion only the opinions or ideas they’ve raised. 
  • The meeting leader puts any idea that doesn’t seem to fit their silent agenda in a parking lot—where it lives forever in exile.  
  • The meeting leader only seems to want to hear from a select few participants. 
  • The meeting leader creates an environment where participants feel uncomfortable sharing what they think.

Good facilitation, by contrast, looks like this: 

  • The meeting leader creates an agenda that will help arrive at objectives based on input from both management and participants.
  • The good facilitator provides both structure and flexibility. Keeping the meeting on schedule while still respecting unexpected responses and pivots.
  • An unbiased facilitator encourages participation and uses their professional skill as well as techniques to keep one person or group from dominating or disrupting the conversation.
  • The meeting organizer creates a safe space, at the outset sharing a set of guiding rules to encourage positive behavior, such as staying present, respecting confidentiality, and allowing more reticent participants a chance to share. 
  • The leader recognizes different communication styles and provides mechanisms for all voices to be heard and all ideas to be welcomed. 
  • The meeting leader helps the group achieve consensus: not everyone may agree, but they can live with decisions and outcomes and are more likely to hold themselves accountable. 

Working with an experienced and neutral facilitator makes all the difference in creating a winning meeting that moves a team or organization forward.