“Remember, you don’t get to do this tomorrow.”
This is the exhortation of the lead singer of the Kaiser Chiefs to the crowd before playing one of their hits. Hardly requiring to propel the crowd further, the Kaiser Chiefs are one of the most dynamic live rock acts on the planet. But there is a reason why they are this: it is because they create and sustain urgency.
At school and university I would always produce my best work in the shadow of a looming deadline. I knew I had to get the work done, simple as that. But I can’t describe the feeling as urgency, it was more a matter of priorities; contrast this with the fact that some training workshops and meetings are not a priority for some people. In this situation you are facilitating against the tide. You need to be the propulsion to create the compulsion.
Urgency is not comfortable. It is serious and it is goal orientated; therefore it requires management of a tension similar to that in a coaching relationship. Urgency requires stoking of conscience, as it is a feeling beyond that of a greed for self-benefit.
Rapid and constant changes of state can feed a sense of seizing the moment. This accelerates and compresses notion of time, and subtly the goal is perceived as being closer. A facilitator can not necessarily bring a future deadline forward within the workshop or meeting, but a fire can be lit to generate momentum.
Other techniques I personally use to generate urgency are:
• An opening why frame that includes a story of someone (usually a client) affected by failures or breaches. Something short, but with absolute punch, and then a phrase like “Imagine how it would feel to be in that situation yourself. Now imagine being able to solve it.” Then a long pause. Then “I believe with the firepower we have in the room today we can achieve our outcomes.” This creates an appetite to solve or learn.
• Direct and unambiguous language. No use of ‘maybe’, but plenty of ‘definitely’ and ‘must’.
• Maintaining a disciplined focus on the core outcomes of the session or meeting.
• Once the ‘Why’ has been quickly established, much more time spent on the ‘What’. “What can we do here?” “What are you capable of?”
• Preposition that you’ll be calling on people for contributions, unprompted, with plenty of direct eye contact. Collective urgency requires no passengers.
• Creation of peer pressure via short sharp group activities. This assists the individual accountability to a common outcome.
• Constant encouragement of each small contribution. Even better, to do it visually, for instance using a ‘solution tree’ peppered with post-its.
• An intense and dynamic facilitation presence. Movement with purpose, gusto and strength.
It is very difficult to sustain high urgency beyond half a day without cooling things off a bit at intervals. If this needs to be done, a total adjunct works best; something like an inspirational or light-hearted TED talk will refresh the participants, and will give them a rest from you! A debrief of these adjuncts is not really needed.
The success of your facilitation for urgency is measured by the actions that follow after everyone leaves the room to achieve the goal. Keep track of that. Celebrate the outcomes with your stakeholders. Believe in yourself. Feel good.