The collective information generated by a group of people can be an incredibly powerful thing. The idea that “two heads are better than one” holds true in many situations and results often far more lively and interesting when information is discussed and shared. A Facilitator’s job plays an important and is really to draw out information that is held by the participants, whereas a trainer is there to impart new learning.
A good facilitator can work in a multitude of ways and can adapt their skills to just about any group or goal, and work across many sectors. It is in situations where there is a lot of information to be discussed in a group, in an in-depth way and requiring a specific output that bringing in a facilitator is very often the way to achieve the best results.
Facilitation means “to make easy” or “ease a process.” What a facilitator does is plan, guide and manage a group event to ensure that the group’s objectives are met effectively, with clear thinking, good participation and full buy-in from everyone who is involved. Facilitation can take a lot of mental effort, meaning that it can be difficult to think about and contribute content while facilitating. Neutrality is also important.
To facilitate well, one must first understand the group’s desired outcome, and the background and context event. Design and plan the group process, and select the tools that best help the group progress towards that outcome. Guide and control the group process to ensure that there is effective participation, participants achieve a mutual understanding. Their contributions are considered and included in the ideas, solutions or decisions that emerge.
Participants take shared responsibility for the outcome. Ensure that outcomes, actions and questions are properly recorded and actioned, and appropriately dealt with afterwards.
What every facilitator must do…and not do!
Although facilitator jobs vary in focus, there are ten key facilitation techniques all skilled facilitators use to manage the group process:
- Initiate, propose and make suggestions
- Divide participants into subgroups
- Use questioning to draw people out, elicit information and opinions
- Use silence to make space
- Keep track of multiple topics and build on the ideas of others
- Use flip charting to generate additional discussion and record ideas
- Listen for common themes, bar irrelevant details and redirect discussion
- Organize the sequence of speakers
- Paraphrase to clarify or show understanding
- Have group members relate specific examples to a general idea or make a summary
The role of a facilitator is to come to a discussion prepared, knowing what kinds of questions to ask to elicit the desired outcomes. Skilled facilitators call upon a wide range of skills and techniques to help a group understand their common objectives and assist them to achieve them. Each group facilitator will express a personal style and approach. It is that unique approach, the authenticity of it, that makes a facilitator’s contribution possible.