Whether you are a small or large organisation, there are likely to be periods of change, situations that are challenging and events that require careful handling. To come through the other side successfully, all three require good facilitation skills and people who are adept at using them.
Having people that are skilled in facilitation can be extremely valuable for a business. An experienced facilitator can take the most challenging of situations and guide a group of individuals to a solution. It is important to note that the facilitator isn’t the problem solver, instead they are the enabler; developing structure and process that supports groups to reach decisions, create ideas or resolve an issue.
Why is facilitation important?
Facilitation is not necessary for day to day activities in the workplace, instead it is vital when:
- Groups are not sure how to confront and manage an issue
- Neutrality is required in a key situation
- Colleagues want to improve how they work; undertake internal reflection
- All members of a group want to engage fully in a discussion, the facilitator takes responsibility and allows this to take place
- Conflict has arisen.
To achieve the right outcome, the facilitator has to be competent in tackling these types of scenarios, otherwise they run the risk of exacerbating the situation. Poor facilitation can frustrate people and demoralise them as well as it being a waste of time for everybody involved, whereas a facilitator with the right skills can leave groups motivated and inspired.
Typical facilitation skills
Effective facilitation requires work beforehand. It does not just happen. Facilitators need to be prepared, and they need to be confident in their understanding of the end goal – what is it that the group is trying to achieve? They then make arrangements to enable this to come to fruition, making sure the right people are involved, there is sufficient time and the necessary resources are available. Facilitators also help the group to create the conditions for a successful outcome – for example, by setting boundaries and deciding how conflict or changing goalposts are handled.
Everyone involved needs to be on the same page – an experienced facilitator will make this happen. It is easy to assume that just because something is written down or someone has explained it at the beginning that all members of a group have the same level of understanding or are committed to the same degree. A skilled facilitator will use different communication styles to keep checking back with participants and clarifying discussion points. Furthermore, it is the facilitator’s job to ask questions and not get drawn into offering solutions – it may sound easy but requires considerable skill and objectivity.
A facilitator’s responsibilities in listening are twofold; by demonstrating active listening skills they are also setting an example for the group on how they should conduct themselves with each other. Active listening involves hearing what the other person is saying and picking up on what could be behind what they are saying or asking. Then using other cues such as body language to obtain confirmation of the messages being given. It is a must-have skill for any facilitator.
A key facilitation skill is understanding group dynamics, recognising what personality types are in the room and then planning to involve everyone in their preferred way. This ensures that all participants’ voices are heard, not just those that shout the loudest. A facilitator must not show favouritism towards any one idea, opinion or way of working. They need to be able to distance themselves from getting involved in the actual activity, instead a skilled facilitator will focus on encouraging all participants to engage and reach a consensus. Ultimately, the key element here is that effective facilitation results in the group resolving their own issue or problem.