Facilitation: making things easier

Facilitate: ‘to render easier; to promote; help forward; to lessen the labour of…’ From French, entering the English language in 1611.

Always keep in mind that as a facilitator you are there to make things easier for the group.

What I do with a group of learners or trainees is not facilitation although there are times when I do facilitate. I teach and teaching can involve facilitation. In the role of a teacher, I come with some knowledge and experience of the subject –matter and the skills.

If I was just facilitating I do not need to have any knowledge of the topic or the people I am facilitating. I should be able to walk into a room of strangers and using a range of group processes, guide them to a conclusion whether that conclusion is a solution to a problem, a strategic plan, a resolution to a conflict, a decision or a set of actions.

In fact, if you are a highly skilled facilitator you probably do not need to prepare, but that is not really recommended. I do want to say, however, that some of the most successful facilitation sessions I have conducted are the ones where I have thrown the plan away and asked the group what they want.

So a facilitator is someone who uses a range of processes, tools and strategies to guide a group to the place it wants to be. A facilitator’s knowledge is the various tools and processes they bring to a situation.

The group has the answers – the knowledge, the solutions, the ideas – and the role of the facilitator is to bring those “out” of the minds of individuals into the group space.

This means, as a general rule, the facilitator does not express her point of view, give advice, or provide information. A facilitator should also be careful about telling stories. The aim is to keep the attention away from you. In a sense, you should be invisible. It is the group that is the focus and the group is the focus of the group, not the facilitator. As soon as you step out of facilitator role into advisor, instructor, storyteller, the dynamic shifts and you become the focus of attention. Then the process may falter and you will need to work to get the group back on track and back into the group-immersed groove.

As a facilitator you will:

 

Introduce the topic

    • There might be a warm up of some sort. You might ask for someone to focus the group with a story or “the reason for…” or the “history of…”
    • Or, you might state what your understanding is of the group’s goals and intentions and make sure everyone agrees with you.
    • The way you start will vary according to the purpose of the meeting and the people themselves.

Make sure everyone understands what the expected outcomes are

  • “At the end of this session we will have…” and the outcomes need to be concrete.

Explain the process

  • Set ground rules with the group about how they will interact or work together; what behaviour is expected; what the group norms are. And you may have some you want to add if the group has not come up with them.

Begin the process

  • Ask a question or set a task
  • Listen to answers
  • Write them up on butchers paper or flip charts or however else you are recording.
  • And what are the rules of transcribing? Write up the exact words of the speaker, as close as possible to word for word. Don’t be tempted to write what your think they mean.
  • Remember to number the pages so they can be typed up in the correct order!
  • You may want to appoint someone or bring along someone as scribe. There are advantages and disadvantages to this.

Facilitate a conversation whether it’s problem solving or idea generation or storytelling

  • Seek clarification
  • Make sure everyone understands
  • Make sure everyone contributes (if you think this is appropriate)
  • But, remember, someone who is silent may be actively participating
  • Keep tracking the feeling of the group
  • Deal with disruptive behaviour
  • Sit quietly and observe the conversation if it gathers its own steam
  • Encourage humour and playfulness; Many a good ifea is generated this way.
  • You might break the group up into pairs or small groups for certain activities
  • Move people around to change the energy and keep focussed on the energy. You will know when energy drops – have a break, move, do some thing different and physically active.
  • Track the time – time keep – What do you do when it looks like time is running away from you?

Bring the session to a close

  • Summarise, congratulate, read out the key points of what you have transcribed, decide or re-iterate what is to be done next.
  • Thank them.
  • Type up the raw data generated by the session before you edit and provide the client with both the edited version AND the raw data.