Facilitating is hard. If you are contemplating becoming an effective facilitator, there are a few things to think about.
And that’s putting it lightly. Think of all the meetings you’ve had where you felt nothing got done. Or those group huddles where people argued needlessly. How about those instances where decision-making dragged on for weeks if not days?
People think facilitating meetings is easy until they find themselves facilitating one and realizing that it’s trickier than it sounds. And, it is one of the most important leadership skills to have today in all sectors where collaborative work is expected.
In the context of human resources, an effective facilitator is a division, department, or unit representative tasked to handle communication, decision making or problem solving when group decisions are required. They handle the processing of human resources activities for their respective department. The scope of their responsibilities is vast. Handling anything from training, information dissemination, to intermediation, a skilled facilitator is expected to be an expert at leading groups through key meetings and gatherings.
And their work doesn’t end in the training room. They coordinate groups, resolve conflicts, and pretty much handle situations that aren’t routine. Simply put, an effective facilitator isn’t just responsible for results. They’re expected to steer individuals (with differing personalities, working styles, learning and communication styles, and skill sets towards a shared and committed outcome.
Being an effective facilitator is a tall order for anyone.
The good news is the skills you need to become an effective facilitator are skills you can hone with proper training.
First off, what is a facilitator expected to be?
They are expected to be prepared. Participants want someone who listens actively (listening not just to reply or retort). A good facilitator, as summarized by feedback surveys I’ve collated through the years, is someone able to establish a a psychologically safe environment for sharing information and making plans without judgment. Of course, unbiased objectivity, and focus are must-haves.
Effective facilitator skills
Following are the most important skills every effective facilitator should have to foster cooperation, as well as critical and creative thinking.
Preparation goes beyond prepping handouts and learning modules. Facilitators have to know the end goal and the checkpoint goals that must be ticked off along the way. Facilitators must create an environment for success by appraising whether the time allocated is realistic, whether the right people are present, and if the necessary materials are within reach.
TIGERS Leaders As Facilitators program digs deep into how to develop consensus the correct way and then expand that into group norm facilitation, action planning and strategic planning. This course is designed with the licensee in mind who is hired to facilitate important meetings for clients when neutrality can not be achieved internally.
Pivotal here is deciding who to exclude from teams or discussions. It’s just as crucial as who to include. Group size, personalities, and skill-sets can predict the success of a project. Knowing all these pressure points gives the facilitator the confidence to tackle the task.
And when a facilitator is confident, the vibe is felt by the team. This alone is a great assurance.
What does a good facilitator do to prep for a meeting?
Active listening is listening not just to what is said. It involves taking in both verbal and nonverbal cues – body language, tone… The facilitator must exhibit interest by making eye contact and demonstrating receptive body language.
This is a skill that is often overlooked.
Essential to active listening is the lack of judgment. Once messages are shared, the facilitator must objectively evaluate by ensuring that the message was accurately understood. I couldn’t emphasize this more. By displaying active listening, facilitators set the tone for participants. Active listening avoids assumptions in decision-making that can often be misunderstood.
But it is the role of an effective facilitator to call out body language that signals judgement on the part of team members. An example is eye rolling. Eye rolling is that “oh brother” response that signals disbelief. So it is important for the facilitator to ask participants what they are thinking so that team process and decisions are committed to with measurable accountability.
ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
In one of my training sessions, I casually sat in to listen to a former trainee handle a brain-storming session. The atmosphere was quite casual peppered with instances where everyone would break into laughter. I would observe that at times, the laughter was nervous laughter aimed at easing the tension caused by the facilitator (my trainee). The reason? Young Mr. facilitator was asking “dumb” questions – questions that I noticed many were too afraid or embarrassed to ask.
But it was precisely because of these “dumb” questions that problems were broken down into manageable chunks. It also gave the others the confidence to verbalize their input.
The facilitator was sensitive enough to get into this line of “dumb” questioning to get others to respond properly. I’ve never been more proud! Disciplined and organized questioning can be used to pursue many purposes, including exploring ideas to get to the core of things.
Is everyone on the same page? It’s deadly to assume that participants understand what’s expected of them when the discussion ends. Way before anything takes place, ensure that instructions are clear and that the group has a shared understanding of the meeting’s objectives. The nature of language, tone, and even delivery can make the simple task of “communicating” quite complicated. Likewise, taking participant silence as a signal of agreement is a big mistake
This happens quite often. An instance I vividly recall involved communication (or rather the lack of it) among different point people representing their departments. When the deadline arrived, only then did the teams realize that they all had a different understanding of what the “priority” project was. And many had to backtrack to complete the project.
Help establish a shared understanding by clarifying objectives (and specific assigned tasks) from the get-go.
I continue this discussion next week in part 2 of this blog series. I share some additional tasks associated with the effective facilitator and share when it is appropriate to bring an outside facilitator in to help resolve issues that can not be treated with objectivity internally.
(This article continues with Part 2)
Copyright TIGERS Success Series, Inc. by Dianne Crampton
About TIGERS Success Series
TIGERS provides a comprehensive, multi-pronged and robust system for improving your workforce behavior, work culture, profitability and project management and team leadership success.
We specialize in building cooperation among employees and collaboration between departments for profitable, agile, and high performance team outcomes. Scaled to grow as your organization and leadership performance improves, our proprietary TIGERS Workforce Behavior Profile, Micro-Training technology and group facilitation methods result in your high performance team outcomes and change management success. We also license and certify elite internal and external consultants and project managers to use our resources for similar outcomes.
Here is a complimentary 30 minute webinar on the TIGERS 6 Principles. Course Certificate for Completion. Enrol now for immediate access.