Facilitation skills – a learned art

Sometimes people think they are facilitating a meeting because they are chairing it – well, no.

What does the term “facilitator” mean?

 

A facilitator is someone who makes something easy for others – meetings, communication between two people, or a training session.

Facilitation is usually used in business to make sure meetings and working groups run successful meetings. The facilitator’s role is to work with the group and process the discussion to ensure the meeting is productive and reaches useful outcomes. A facilitator is a process expert who will have practical suggestions for structuring meetings and leading discussions. Their style should be empowering and co-operative.

It is always best that the facilitator is accepted by the group, yet it doesn’t mean they have the power to make decisions. They will help the group to identify and clarify needs, problems and issues, and work with the group to solve problems. Mostly the facilitator is called in to work with a group over one or more meetings or a workshop – usually not a long term project.

Strategic planning days or team building days to solve problems or improve service/quality are often the times when an outside facilitator can be very helpful.

 

The three main skills of facilitation

All leaders and managers need to be good facilitators to get participation in meetings and project groups.

There are three main skills:

 

1. Have structure

Be clear about the problem – so there is a need to identify what is causing it, and come up with solutions. For example in a conflict between two people, a facilitator would ensure we hear from both people and then work on solutions.

The difference between consulting versus facilitation is that the facilitator will ask questions and provide structure as opposed to telling the answers.

 

2. Leadership

A facilitator needs to have good leadership skills and they need to vary their style of leadership.

In a situation where mediating a conflict for example, they would need to use a high level of direction, whereas if a group is working well, they need to know when to back off and let them go.

 

3. Discussion leading skills

Facilitators need good discussion leading skills. They need to know how to control the discussion, invite participation, gain agreement and manage time successfully. The skills of asking open questions is critical. They need to know how to manage the long winded talkers and draw in the quiet non-participators, and know when and how to use silence.

 

Common traps for facilitators

The most common traps for facilitators are:

  • Only focusing on discussion leading and not having structure.
  • Getting too involved with the content rather than process – that’s why it can be an advantage to be an outsider and not to know the issues.

 

Next week I will cover in more detail the common mistakes in facilitation skills.

 

 

 

Eve Ash is the founder of Seven Dimensions and Ash.Quarry Productions and co-producer with fellow psychologist Peter Quarry, of the best-selling video Facilitation Skills (Take Away Training Series) www.7dimensions.com.au

 

To read more Eve Ash blogs, click here.

 

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