Confident Facilitation Skills – the Fundamentals of Facilitation
The term facilitation has a broad meaning. In the context of this post, facilitation refers to leading and guiding a group, without bias, to discover insights and reach an intended outcome.
Facilitation of group discussion is a technique that encourages the group to express and discuss their own ideas. The group is the reservoir of knowledge and creativity; the facilitator “serves” the group by building trust, remaining neutral, and not evaluating or contributing his or her own ideas.
The role of facilitator defined
The role of the facilitator is to encourage discussion, help clarify when necessary, and assist the group in summarizing their ideas. The facilitator is concerned with the process – what is going on in the group, but they do not control the content. Facilitation requires skill in questioning, paraphrasing, and summarizing. It also demands careful attention to group dynamics. The facilitator may need to encourage quiet participants, move the conversation away from dominant participants, and deal with disruptive participants.
There are no prescribed rules for good facilitation, however there are tips and tricks to promote success. In addition to sound facilitation skills, each facilitation situation depends on the facilitator’s personality, the circumstances, and the nature of the people in the group.
“We all arrived and sat in a meeting. What made this meeting different from all the others we’d attended was that our manager introduced a person whose role was to facilitate our meeting. After seeing the meeting begin and end on time and the purpose of the meeting actually accomplished, our group thought, “So that’s what facilitation is all about, someone runs a meeting for us.”
What didn’t they see?
Excellence in facilitation often goes unnoticed and is simply a process for achieving the objectives of a meeting in a very subtle way.
- That they could converse and accomplish their purpose faster.
- That they shared more ideas and knowledge.
- That their results were of a higher quality because everyone in the group had equal opportunity to contribute.
- That people in their group with differing viewpoints had their ideas married together.
- That everyone left in agreement and with a common understanding of what had occurred and what was to happen next.
The facilitator vs. group relationship
The group should do most of the talking. Facilitators need to be aware of how much they talk. They should not be dominating the conversation or be a focal point of the conversation.
Facilitators need to be able to tolerate silence. Silence can mean various things: lack of understanding of a question or of the process, confusion, thinking or reflecting, or needing time to translate ideas and language.
Traits of an excellent facilitator
A facilitator is many things:
- An internal or external person who designs work sessions with a specific focus or intent.
- An advisor who brings out the full potential of a working group.
- A provider of processes, tools and techniques to get work accomplished effectively and efficiently in a group environment.
- A person who keeps a group meeting on track.
- Someone who helps resolve conflict.
- Someone who draws out participation from everyone.
- Someone who organizes the work of a group.
- Someone who makes sure that the goals are met.
- Someone who provides structure to the work of a group.
What a facilitator is not
Facilitation is not:
- Meeting management
- One-on-one coaching
- Group therapy
- Changing the input/words of participants to suit themselves
- Refusing to record an idea
- Getting involved in the content of the group
- Fixing the group
- Fixing the problem for the group
- Attaching to outcomes
- Judging comments of the group, liking some ideas better than others
- Mixing up the agenda and or work processes
- Manipulating people and behaviors through their own feedback
- Monopolizing conversation
- Taking sides on issues or people
- Being closed to group suggestions on the process
- Trying to have all the answers
Choosing an internal vs. external facilitator
Outlined below are three options for handling facilitation:
- Use an Internal Facilitator
Using an internal facilitator saves time and the complexity of introducing an outsider to the organization. It also provides one or more employees the opportunity to exercise facilitation skills, makes good use of the organization’s resources, and helps to foster an internal commitment to project process and outcomes. However, the facilitator must be objective and neutral throughout the process and this is often a challenge for internal resources.
- Hire an External Facilitator
Engaging a qualified outside volunteer or paid consultant brings expertise to the role, frees internal resources to focus on the process, and provides a catalyst for keeping on track. However, it is important that an outside facilitator be somewhat familiar with the content being discussed and is a quick study with regard to an organizational background and culture. Bringing in an outside facilitator is one way of demonstrating commitment to the topic at hand, and because of the outsider’s neutrality, participants may find it easier to be honest.
- Do not assign a facilitator
This option is most effective for experienced organizations or those who have a strong commitment to developing shared skills in meeting and process management. Without a facilitator, it is especially important that groups have ground rules for their work and guard against irrelevant discussion, individuals who dominate, and any dissent among group members.
There are so many interactions that happen in the course of business. Some would benefit from a facilitator, some would not.
If you want to see how facilitation might be useful in your organization, check out our Facilitator Assignment worksheet.