If we go to a dictionary and look for the original meaning of the word “facilitate” we will find that to facilitate is “to render easier; to promote; to help forward; to lesson the labour of…”

As facilitators we work with groups to make processes and decisions easier and to assist them to move forward. We are process workers.

We use a range of strategies and tools to guide a group to the place it wants to be.The group has the answers – the knowledge, the solutions, the ideas – and the role of the facilitator is to bring these into the group space.

Facilitation is therefore different to training or teaching. What we do with a group of learners is not facilitation although there are times when we do facilitate. In the role of teachers or trainers, we bring expert knowledge or subject-matter experience to the group. We may instruct, present or demonstrate  and combine this with learning activities and discussion which may engage us in facilitation. Facilitation is one tool in a teacher/trainers toolkit.

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

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. Avoid using warm up games unless they are relevant to the purpose of the session and suitable for the participants.

Make sure everyone understands what the expected outcomes are

  • “At the end of this session we will have…”
  • Make the outcomes clear and 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.
  • Write these up.
  • 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 and comments.
  • Clarify and seek elaboration as needed.
  • Record what needs to be noted, making sure to use the exact words of the speaker, as close as possible to word for word. Don’t be tempted to write what you think they mean.
  • You may want to appoint someone or bring along someone as scribe, or use a graphic recorder.

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 feelings of the group.
  • Deal with any disruptive behaviour openly and sensitively.
  • Sit quietly and observe the conversation if it gathers its own steam.
  • Encourage humour and playfulness; many a good idea 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?
  • Step in and check in when needed.
  • Keep the focused on the purpose. You may need to bring the group back on track.
  • Sometimes, you may change the track, with the group’s approval.

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. Congratulate them!
  • You may finish with a linking or connecting or “what I will do now” activity.
  • 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.