We come into contact with situations where we are required to facilitate all of the time. Be that in amongst friends, family environments, in social situations or in relationships.
In our industry facilitation more traditionally appears in a variety of guises from brainstorms, workshop sessions and client meetings to advisory boards and research.
I have been recently trying to work out if there are any simple rules that we can follow to help us be better facilitators on a daily basis.
My investigations have involved lots of reading, a fair bit of observing and then some discussions with internal teams.
After all this, in truth I think there’s a lot to be said for taking each situation as it comes, breaking down the problem and then approaching facilitation on a task by task basis. The way you facilitate varies so much depending on the people in the room, the objective of the meeting and what you want to facilitate. The objectives may be generating innovative or creative ideas through to gaining insights and ensuring a balanced and honest view from a group of individuals.
However this leads me fairly neatly to the first and probably most fundamental rule of facilitation: You need to think about what you want to get out of whatever session it is and then what the people you are facilitating might want – can you meet all objectives, who is going to steer things off course and why and how will you get back on track. Think about all the people in the room – what are their hopes, concerns and hang-ups. How do they like to be spoken to? What is their relationship to each other (honestly).
While the premise on which you may be facilitating will vary I have tried to break down a few simple guiding principles that allow us to take each problem and ensure a consistent and hopefully successful approach so here goes:
- Clearly recognise and define your objectives and identify the team roles and structure.
- Understand who is in the room and therefore the dynamic of the group your are facilitating – this is crucial to allow you to adapt to individual styles, personalities and attitudes
- Create a positive environment. Allow a forum where ideas can flow freely and discussions are encouraged – ‘if it’s worth thinking it’s worth saying’ – this will require a fair bit of prep work. Look at the room you are in, the way you’re planning on running the session, where people are sat and ways of maintaining the energy levels throughout the meeting. You need to know what you are facilitating – how to cut people short nicely and park rubbish ideas!
- Once in the meeting be neutral, flexible and adaptive. The art of a good facilitator lies in the ability to read peoples expressions, emotions and body language and guide the meeting in a positive direction
- Be engaged and confident yourself but be very careful of learning too. This depends on your specific role in the meeting, be sure you understand if you are you a contributor and facilitator, or there specifically to facilitate the group. You need to make sure you listen and respond but if you need to be ‘in the moment’ and contributing you have a different job on your hands
- Don’t allow others to dominate the discussion or be dismissive of others questions or views – be aware of individuals who are not as vocal or expressive and ensure they feel confident and encouraged to contribute it is often good to have an emergency ‘bail out’ route in your head – e.g. who can you turn to for support in the room in the event of a runaway train, who can you get to reinforce or re-explain for you?
- Intervene thoughtfully, promote enquiry and steer the conversation if it is wavering of track
- Finally, drive commitment of ideas or opinions. Complement and acknowledge individuals by referring or building on their initial thoughts. Don’t close the discussion or an idea down.
I think the best summary of this I could find was from Knowles, albeit specifically with reference to learning: ‘establish the right climate, create a mechanism for mutual planning, diagnose needs for learning, formulate objectives to satisfy these needs, design a pattern of learning experiences, conduct these with suitable techniques and materials, evaluate outcomes and rediagnose needs.
However whilst the rules provide a good benchmark just from observing a load of situations I think the best facilitators grow with experience, learn from others and never get static. Taking notes of the good bad and ugly in meetings, asking how others approach things and sharing views and opinions can go a long way to growing us into wonderful facilitators.