A successful meeting needs to be well organized with a sense of purpose and direction. To ensure this, it is helpful to have a facilitator take charge of the session. A good facilitator adds immense value to any business or learning setting. The number of meetings is on the rise, with the average professional spending up to a third of their work week in meetings. However, with the right facilitator at the helm, the time spent in meetings doesn’t have to be lost time.
According to HBR, 71% of senior managers they surveyed said meetings are unproductive and inefficient, and 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together. The survey of more than 700 workers in the US revealed that some of the issues they dislike about work meetings include failure to start on time, discussions going off-topic, and having a single person or few people dominate the meeting. In the survey, 64% of the participants agreed that they look forward to attending a well-organized meeting.
A facilitator is instrumental in changing how people go about creating value from meetings and group sessions. They help shift from the traditional method of just having one person talking and encourage a shared way of thinking and working together.
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What is facilitation?
Facilitation is a set of techniques used when working with a group to enable and support them to achieve their goal through a collaborative approach. In a business setting, it includes the processes of planning and running a successful meeting in a manner that involves and respects all contributions.
The technique can also be applied in learning to help participants acquire, retain and apply knowledge. In essence, facilitation involves leading a group through processes that target agreed-upon objectives in a way that encourages participation, creativity and ownership by all involved. Usually, one person in the group assumes this responsibility: the facilitator.
The role of a facilitator
The role of a facilitator encompasses many abilities, not limited to presentation, training, project management and people skills. This is a very dynamic role and sometimes requires you to improvise on the go. To make things easier for groups, some of the core roles of a facilitator include:
- First, supporting individuals in a group to understand their shared objectives.
- Help groups collectively move through processes.
- Structure group sessions and apply appropriate facilitation skills to make discussions and meetings effective.
- Finally, encourage participation and brainstorming in groups.
Ideally, a facilitator works from three angles. As a catalyst to initiate ideas and opinions without being an active contributor in the discussion. As a conductor of a musical, that synchronizes all the players in the group to ensure they stick within the set guidelines while contributing. And finally, as a coach, to show the team how to work collaboratively to reach an outcome.
What are the qualities of a good facilitator?
1. Stimulating interaction while remaining neutral
As a facilitator, you need to create an inclusive environment so that all participants are on equal ground. Think of clever ways to make everyone in the group involved so that, in the end, they all buy in and own the process.
To maintain a neutral stance, you must learn to understand when to ask questions, when to give voice to those that need it and when the group is digressing or diving deep too soon. Your objective as a facilitator is to hold a group on predetermined guidelines without expecting a specific outcome.
2. Establishing a safe environment that motivates participation
Create a session with structures and activities that appeal to different personality types and people of all skill levels. The goal should be to articulate a shared vision while maximizing the commitment and engagement of everyone in the group. Everyone needs to feel that they are making a meaningful contribution to the end goal.
3. Good listening habits
As mentioned earlier, good listening skills are essential for any excellent facilitator. To open up communication during your sessions, you need to master the art of effective and active listening. This means listening to participants without thinking about your next response or action, while at the same time encouraging them to keep talking using basic language cues.
4. Ability to structure sessions
Whether facilitating a simple meeting or a big event, in the back of your mind, always remember what the outcome should be and how to help the group reach it. Structure helps you go along the process smoothly while involving everyone and remaining objective. Without structure, you will often sway away from the agenda and finish the session without addressing all the items planned.
5. Confidence to challenge outside-the-box thinking
You need to have the capacity to provoke new insights and welcome them without taking sides. To achieve this, you will first need to establish the ground rules by, for example, allowing participants equal time to speak and respecting everyone's contribution. Then get things flowing by asking questions, helping participants build on ideas, and keeping up the momentum by intervening when there is a need. Other practical facilitation skills include probing, summarizing, giving positive reinforcement, and the ability to bridge and refer back to help connect ideas.
6. Using a proactive approach
Being proactive means taking the initiative to plan and prepare ahead to ensure a smooth session. You should use your previous experience and mistakes to improve the next facilitation session. Also, being proactive equips you to tailor the facilitation session to meet the needs of a group rather than using a generalized approach.
Even after planning, things may not always go as expected. If you stay rigid, it will be difficult for you to adapt to the new circumstances and still carry through your session successfully. For example, if new agendas come up, will you still be able to address them, or will you neglect them? Flexibility allows you to innovate solutions to challenges as you go so that the end objective is still realized no matter what.
8. Ability to connect with the group
When you are connected to the group you are facilitating, you will be fully present with whatever comes up during the session. Developing this ability takes skill and practice. You first must be confident and grounded in yourself and your abilities as a facilitator. You will be able to read the room and react appropriately at a human level.
9. Good time manager
No matter how good it is, a session has to come to an end. Therefore, you need to plan appropriately how you intend to cover all the session agendas within the available time limit. Be firm with how much time you allow participants, and know when to call back the team to the agenda if they start to deviate.
10. Socially intelligent
Good facilitators must have the necessary skills to relate to their audience with empathy and assertiveness. This ensures using the right words and tone to communicate effectively. It also considers social rules and roles to ensure inclusivity and prevent chances of offending anyone.
How to be a good facilitator: 8 tips for success
- Probe the group by asking questions that will give you a general sense of their opinions or impressions towards a topic or point.
- Paraphrase statements to ensure that you are on the same page with the rest of the group.
- Encourage the group to participate by redirecting questions or comments.
- Connect ideas and emphasize earlier discussions, bridge and refer back to what participants contribute.
- Anytime the session feels stuck, try shifting the perspective and looking at the problem differently.
- Promote understanding by summarizing points contributed by the group.
- Use positive reinforcement to encourage people to speak up and share their ideas.
- Look out for quiet or shy people in the group and encourage them to participate.