What is facilitation? 

Definitions include that it is the process of making something possible or easier, to help cause (something): to help (something) run more smoothly and effectively.

According to Trevor Bentley, a facilitator, independent consultant and author of the book ‘Facilitation: Providing Opportunities For Learning’, facilitation can be defined as:

“the provision of opportunities, resources, encouragement and support for the group to succeed in achieving its objectives and to do this through enabling the group to take control and responsibility for the way they proceed.”

Where does facilitation come from?

The Latin word for easy is facilis and the French word for easy is facile.  The English facilitate and its variants and the word facility are derived from these.

What does this mean in the context of change and training?

One who contributes structure and process to interactions so groups and individuals are able to function effectively and make high quality decisions.  A facilitator is a helper and enabler whose goal is to support others as they achieve exceptional performance.  The purpose of change and training is to move from the current state of ability and performance to a greater level of performance.

Everyone needs a push in the right direction occasionally; the facilitator is there to give this gentle push in a way that makes the person feel that they came up with the steps forward through their own thought processes.  A facilitator helps create a structure and environment that makes it easy for people to collaborate.  Facilitation is about bringing diverse groups of people together and making it easy for them to work together to come up with a solution to a problem.

Why is it used?

As more workplaces abandon the traditional reliance on a hierarchical structure and become more reliant on teamwork, collaboration and problem solving, rather than just tactical execution, demand for facilitation skills will only keep increasing.  It is important to start developing this key skill.

It is used in processes such as brainstorming sessions, meetings, team building sessions, planning sessions, training and development sessions, conflict resolution, or any other activity that requires a group of people to collaborate to achieve specific predetermined results.

At Evolution Culture we have used facilitation in the following ways amongst others:

  • Business Process Mapping – as is versus to be
  • Roles and Responsibilities definition
  • Ways of Working in one Country versus another
  • Training to simplify new knowledge and to enhance performance

What skills are required to facilitate?

As a facilitator, your role is to guide the different people participating in a process to ensure that they come up with the desired results together.  You do not get involved in the actual content of any decisions; you provide the framework, tools and structure to enable them to make those decisions themselves.

Here are a few of your tasks:

  • establish an objective for the process
  • create an environment that provides opportunities for contribution and discussion
  • make suggestions that will help the process run more smoothly
  • interrupt speakers who might be drifting from the objective or taking over
  • ensure all participants have an opportunity to share ideas
  • steer the group towards constructive do-able solutions

Facilitation can be a delicate balancing act between encouraging and controlling the process.  Too much emphasis on encouraging participation may result in an animated but unregulated discussion that will take so much time without achieving anything meaningful.  Too much emphasis on controlling the process and the participants might feel like their participation is stifled, thus making it harder to come up with the best solution.

Our training courses are delivered online (see our course ‘How To Deliver Training Online’) and some of the techniques used can be used in facilitation as well.  Online you would need to consider smaller groups as online facilitation is more difficult as is online training.

Top Tips for Facilitators

Set Rules and Boundaries

The aim here is to foster an atmosphere of trust and openness.  Establishing rules and boundaries at the outset enables you to be in a better position to notice when the participants veer off track and bring them back to ensure that the desired outcome is achieved within the available time.

A facilitator:

  • Sets the ground rules and boundaries for the process
  • Defines the objective(s) of the process and gets agreement
  • Gives an outline structure of how the session will run
  • Makes it clear what is expected of the participants and what will not be tolerated
  • Helps the participants to clarify what the desired outcome is
  • Makes sure that this outcome can be reasonably achieved within the available time
  • Doing this also helps foster a sense of ownership among the participants.
  • Explains that their role in the process is only to facilitate, not to push their own agenda and will not take sides – the guidance is from a neutral standpoint
  • Determines how any potential disagreements will be dealt with

Manage Time

You need to be able to keep track of time and ensure that the time is managed effectively.

A facilitator:

  • Plans an outline structure for the session with time frames for each activity
  • Makes sure it is clear to the group how much time is allocated for each activity
  • Adheres to the time limits that have been allocated and keeps everyone on track.
  • Keeps track of time and reminds the group when their time is coming to an end (like the Great British Bake Off – “bakers you have 10 minutes remaining!”)

Encourage Participation

This is perhaps one of the most important parts of the role because if someone feels like their contributions and ideas are being stifled, they will refrain from making further contributions which may be just what is needed.  The session will not effectively serve its purpose if all participants feel they are unable to freely contribute.

A facilitator:

  • Finds ways to create an environment where the participants are comfortable sharing their ideas and encouraged to contribute
  • Notices if someone has not contributed and invites them to share their thoughts and ideas
  • Uses scenarios and activities that encourage contribution, eg smaller groups or anonymous questionnaires

Remain Impartial

This is another important factor in the facilitator role.  Your main task as a facilitator is to draw out the contributions of the participants and guide the group to make a decision on their own, without in any way influencing the outcome yourself.

Remaining impartial means that you should suppress your own opinions and ideas while moderating the ideas and opinions of others – not as easy as it sounds!  Help the group to reach an agreement without imposing your opinions on them – at the end of the session, the group should feel that they have achieved the outcome by themselves.

Be Ready to Intervene

You are in charge of the session and it is your responsibility to make sure it ends successfully and achieves the objectives.  Your role is to be ready to step in and stop anything that might make it harder to achieve the objectives.

Monitor what is going on and determine whether it is taking the group closer to its objectives and intervene if something happens to take the group off track of the objectives.  This may be that one person is hogging the limelight and not letting others get a fair share of the time allocated for an activity.  Timely intervention may also be required if disagreements surface.

Be Sensitive

To be able to generate feelings of trust, openness and respect, you need to be able to use your senses, instincts and intuition to pick up the atmosphere and gauge how the participants are individually responding to the topic being discussed and the opinions of other participants.  If some of the participants feel uncomfortable, angry, or even hurt by something that was said, most of them will not speak up about their discomfort and instead they will silently resign from the discussions.

A facilitator:

  • Picks up on an individual’s body language and ensures that everyone is involved
  • Senses the group harmony and influences it in a constructive way to promote engagement

Probe Participants

Sometimes, there will be participants who will remain clammed up despite your best efforts of creating an atmosphere of trust and openness.  However it is important that everyone has a chance to have their say.  Use questioning techniques to draw out opinions on what has been said.  It is a good way to get others to contribute and elaborate on information that has been given and to clarify any points that seem unclear or ambiguous.

Summarise Ideas

When a diverse group of people share their individual ideas, it sometimes becomes difficult for some of the participants to make sense of what is being said or to understand how it ties to the bigger picture.  As a facilitator, it is up to you to take the different ideas from different people and express them in a succinct manner that allows everyone to understand how the ideas are connected to the whole.  Once someone has finished making their contribution, give a summary of what they said and confirm if that is what they actually meant to minimise the chances of misinterpretation.

Summary

One important thing to note is that anyone can be a facilitator.  You don’t need to hold any titles or have certain levels of experience in order to play the role of a facilitator.  All you need is the ability to bring people together and create an atmosphere that makes it possible for them to collaborate towards a common objective.

Facilitation is not just for managers or team leaders and in certain circumstances having someone who is not part of the management team as a facilitator helps break down the constraints of hierarchical structure, making everyone feel more comfortable with sharing their opinions and ideas.  It is a skill that empowers anyone.

Technology has made the world a smaller place and many companies have divisions in different countries and continents.  This means that there are diverse geographical locations, time zones and backgrounds.  When you bring together people from different backgrounds, with different experiences and different perspectives to work on a common problem, there is a high likelihood that creative and innovative solutions will emerge.

However, owing to their diversity, you can’t simply bring these people together and hope that they will work together on their own to come up with solutions.

This is where facilitation comes in.  Facilitation makes it possible for businesses to harness this diversity and channel it productively.

 

Check out our courses for sessions on questioning techniques, managing conflict, designing effective activities for group and much, much more.

22 June 2020

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