Being a Facilitator

There is a growing demand for people with facilitation skills. Here you will find an introduction to being a strong chairperson and facilitator.

In Summary:

  1. Your role of facilitator is to ascertain the will of a meeting or team and see that it is done.
  2. Being able to facilitate is highly valued in most modern workplaces.
  3. The best facilitators also have strong coaching skills.
  4. There are various facilitation tools to help achieve different goals and keep meetings on-track.

Being a good chairperson has long been recognised as a valuable skill. Chairpersons are seen as ‘leaders’. Chairpersons are seen as people who make things happen, organise the disorganised and bring projects to fruition. In years past, the role of chairperson had strayed into heavy-handed control of meetings, forgetting that the main duty of a good chairperson is to ‘ascertain the will of a meeting and to see that the will of the meeting is done’.

The role of chairperson has now evolved to embrace the skill of ‘facilitation’, which we will now explore.

Why Facilitation Skills?

In the modern world there is a great demand for people with facilitation skills. “Why is this so?” you may ask. There are a number of reasons; here are a few of them.

  • There is a move to more relaxed and informal meeting formats.
  • Many organisations recognise the value of employee involvement.
  • Many organisations have a flatter management structure.
  • People from all levels of organisations are encouraged to share ideas on an equal footing.
  • The ‘Group’ approach is preferred to the ‘Hierarchical’ approach.

What is a facilitator?

A facilitator is a person given the task of assisting a group or team of people in activities that will result in them achieving a particular aim or goal for the group or the broader organisation. A facilitator should understand how groups of people work together to achieve common goals, in other words, understand the science of ‘Group Dynamics’.

What types of team does a facilitator work with?

There are many teams but here are a few of the main ones:

  • Task forces
  • Quality control teams
  • Cultural change teams
  • Process improvement teams
  • Work teams or groups
  • Project teams
  • Problem-solving teams
  • Brainstorming groups
  • Cross-functional teams
  • The teams may be of a permanent nature within an organisation or set up for a limited life to work on a particular project or problem

Authoritarian v Coaching approach

The difference between the approach of a Chairperson and a Facilitator in tackling a project or problem may vary depending on the personality of the individual. Perhaps we can best compare by looking at two extremes, the worst of the chairperson approach (Authoritarian) v the best of the facilitation approach (Coaching). When we do this we need to bear in mind that there are many shades of grey between these two extremes.

Authoritarian Coaching
Communicates one way only. Encourages the involvement of all.
Uses rules, procedures policies and the like. Attempts to arrive at a group consensus.
Tries to make or impose all decisions. Empowers participants to make joint decisions.
Usually considered the ‘Leader’ or ‘Expert’. Encourages shared responsibilities.
Seeks to change the organisation by own influence. Seeks change by use of trust, and innovation with the group and between its members.
Sees others as being tools to use in the change process. Sees others as being an integral and equal component in the change process.
Tends to work on a one-to-one rather than a group basis. Motivates by praise and encouragement, builds the confidence of participants in each other.

Skills required of a good Facilitator

If you wish to become a good facilitator you will find it helpful to develop the eight skills listed below.

  • Be able to plan meetings and effectively follow that plan.
  • Be a good listener, able to evaluate the individual input of group members and act as a sounding board for ideas.
  • Encourage the participation and input of all group members and develop a team culture by clarifying information, disseminating ideas and obtaining technical assistance from experts in their fields.
  • Know how to use all types of questioning techniques and, in particular, be able to facilitate discussion by the use of open questions.
  • Know how to record information and use flip charts, whiteboards, computers, and associated equipment.
  • Remain completely impartial on all issues.
  • Provide feedback and smooth any conflicts that may arise in the group.
  • Help the group maintain its focus on the central issues.

Facilitation Tools

Facilitators should become familiar with tools that may assist in facilitating meetings. These include:

  • Flowcharts – By documenting the process you intend to undertake on a flowchart your team will be better able to work through that process. The chart will set out the steps to be undertaken, the flow of information, sequence of events, or how individual components of the process work.
  • Brainstorming – This is usually done with the aid of a flipchart or whiteboard. The team starts with a clear goal. The rules are set and a timeframe agreed. Each participant in turn is asked to make a contribution to the session, no matter how way-out it may seem. The team is not allowed to criticise or comment on the ideas as this may discourage others from contributing. The process is repeated until the supply of ideas has been exhausted. The aim is to get a great number of ideas. The ideas gleaned in the brainstorming session can be developed at a future time to further the project or solve the problem.
  • Fishbone Diagram – such a diagram is used by facilitators to analyse a problem and trace its causes and effects. There are three steps involved: Identify the problem. Place it in a box, this will be the ‘head’ of the fish. Create sub-groups relating to the problem. These will be the ‘bones’ of the fish. List under each sub-group possible related causes.
  • Pareto Diagrams – This technique is also known as the 80/20 Principle. It is used to distinguish the critical causes of problems from the multitude of potential causes that may exist. Many text books have been written on this topic and anyone serious about becoming involved in facilitation work should consult such an authority.

In Conclusion

Facilitation is an effective process by which groups may achieve their goals. It is often more appropriate than the authoritarian approach adopted by some chairpersons. Facilitators need different skills and tools than chairpersons. This handout provided a taste of the complex and challenging skills a facilitator requires. Many books are available for persons wishing to develop and utilise facilitation skills. Many challenging tasks, as well as rewards, await those willing to involve themselves in this growing area.

Reproduced from the Rostrum publication “Tips on Public Speaking and Meeting Procedures. Vol. 1” -a collection of 30 handouts by Ron Johnson.

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