Many people who try and facilitate group discussions often wonder why they get a lousy response and fail to achieve positive outcomes.
Many people who try and facilitate group discussions often wonder why they get a lousy response and fail to achieve positive outcomes. Why? It’s usually a combination of five common mistakes.
Last week I talked about Facilitation Skills – a learned art. Now let’s explore those mistakes so you can learn to lead group discussions, ensure productive contributions, manage group dynamics and achieve planned outcomes.
- No clear plan. This seems to be beyond basic – but you would be surprised how many people set out to facilitate a discussion but have no clear goal. They have no structure to follow, because they have no goal. If the goal is to make a decision then this will influence the plan and approach; if the goal is learning then that requires a different plan; or if it is to solve a problem then there is another plan again.
- Loose control. Probably the most common mistake is to allow the group to meander, to go on with what they are talking about – without any control, or insufficient control. Facilitation involves leadership – firm leadership at the start, and then one can let go later. The facilitator needs to summarise and move on, and use transition techniques to be able to move from one area of discussion to another – smoothly and effectively, keeping everyone involved.
- Any discussion is good. Why would any discussion be acceptable? It is not. It needs to be focused and related to the goal. The facilitator needs to understand group dynamics and focus on the process, not the content, and strongly manage the group process. As a facilitator you need to ensure you clarify your role.
- Uneven participation. Invariably when a group is discussing something there will be uneven participation. Some people hang back, perhaps they lack confidence to speak up, maybe they are bored, or maybe one or two monopolise the discussion and make others feel annoyed. Whatever the reason, it is the facilitator who needs to manage this situation and keep the participation even across the group. This means controlling the big talkers, involving the small talkers, using “gate keeping” – opening and closing opportunities to talk. This can be done with verbal but also non-verbal signals. It is critical that wider participation is achieved.
- No focus on results. How ever a facilitator who gets all of the above right, they may still fall down in the end because they fail to achieve results, or have no focus on results. So they run out of time, or they regress to what has already been covered. So the facilitator must manage time carefully, avoid regression, push for specifics and use action plans. It is critical to know who, what and when things will be done as a result of the group session.
Recommendations for new facilitators
If you are new to facilitating or you want to develop your skills, there are three immediate things you can do to develop and improve:
a. Find someone who is really good at facilitating and observe how they do it. Make notes, look for examples and discuss it with them afterwards.
b. Seek feedback – ask others to observe the process and give feedback afterwards. Ideally they should be outside the group but even someone within the group will provide invaluable feedback on your facilitation skills.
c. Do some 360 degree feedback – there are online tools available and this can be a great way to get some more objective feedback.
Eve Ash is a psychologist, managing director of Seven Dimensions, and co-producer with Peter Quarry of the popular DVD Common Facilitation Mistakes from the Take Away Training Series © Ash.Quarry Productions and co-developer with Peter Quarry of the Online 360 degree feedback tool “Meeting Facilitation Indicator” www.7dimensions.com.au
To read more Eve Ash blogs, click here.