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Below are some extracts from our Facilitation and Meeting Skills manual.

Facilitation Skills

 

Understanding Facilitation

Groups are powerful resources in any organisation. When you tap into groups, you don’t just get the best of individual members, you also get the best of group interaction. The result is a more dynamic, creative and empowered team. 

To get the most of groups, you need facilitation skills. In this section, we will discuss what is facilitation, what is a facilitator and when is facilitation appropriate.

What is Facilitation

Facilitation is a manner of handling group meetings in a way that takes the focus away from just one leader, and instead distributes leadership to all members of the group. There is premium on democracy, group involvement and cooperation.  The focus is not just on getting things done, but also in feeling good about it.

Facilitation is often contrasted with presentation, which is delivering information or decisions to a group.  Facilitation is group-centred while presentation is leader-centred. For this reason, facilitation is incompatible with an autocratic management style.


Example of the difference between facilitation and presentation:

FACILITATION: “How do you think the company can solve this problem? Any ideas?”

PRESENTATION: “This is how we will solve the problem…”

 

What is a Facilitator?

Group-centred meetings require an individual (or individuals in the case of larger groups to manage the process. This person(s) is a facilitator.

A facilitator is a person who helps groups to arrive at their objective by ensuring that everyone’s contribution is heard and the processes being used are both productive and empowering to all. Facilitators work primarily through leading and blocking techniques, basically directing traffic within a group discussion. Facilitation can also involve managing group member’s emotions, defusing tensions and encouraging team cohesiveness. In some cases, facilitators help in setting and revising meeting structure, and managing conflicts.

 

When is Facilitation Appropriate?

In general, facilitation has something positive to offer every group process, whether we’re talking about a working group or a recreational group.

Facilitation is most appropriate…

a. When you want to encourage group motivation, commitment and confidence.

A facilitated process is a great way to get employees engaged and empowered; it sends the message that all team members’ opinions, suggestions and feelings are valued, and will at least be taken into consideration before making a decision. When a discussion is facilitated, group members can take pride in the results, because the bulk of the ideas came from them.

 More so, a facilitated process promotes ownership of a task or an issue among group members. Because results depend directly on the team members’ effort and performance, teams are more likely to invest in the process and carry a task through.

b. When you want to make the most of group knowledge, experience and diversity.

Facilitation is ideal when you have people of different backgrounds, expertise and/ or work style, and you want to create something that integrates all these differences. For example, brainstorming sessions always work best if participants are from diverse disciplines. Facilitation can ensure that all members have their say, and that cross-fertilisation of ideas (members building on other members’ ideas) can happen.

c. When there is more than one answer to a question, or one side to a story.

Facilitation is appropriate for discussion of issues that allow a healthy debate and multiple perspectives.  A discussion where the solution is clear from the very beginning, or where no other viable alternative exists, is not recommended for facilitation. Similarly, a conflict situation where only one position will be tolerated is not for facilitation.

 

Laying the Groundwork     

A facilitated approach is not just a technique; it’s an attitude and disposition to doing things that should be shared by the whole organisation. To best benefit from group facilitation, you need to set the stage for it. In this section, we will discuss choosing a facilitated approach, planning for a facilitated meeting and collecting data.

 

Choosing a Facilitated Approach

In an earlier section, we discussed about the situations when facilitation is appropriate and situations when facilitation is not appropriate.

 If your organisation has decided that facilitation is appropriate, the following are some steps you should take:

a. Orient the participants about what facilitation is, and what it can do for them.

If a team is new to the facilitated approach, they might find difficulty with the process. For example, individuals from a hierarchal organisation might feel uneasy contributing when there are senior members in the group. In situations where there’s conflict, the group might even expect the facilitator to adjudicate the issue or at least offer an opinion. It’s important then to clarify with everyone what facilitation is (and what it isn’t) before you start implementing it in your group. If there are significant reservations about changing to a facilitated approach, identify them early so that they may be addressed.

b. Make sure that facilitation has the administration’s support.

The incentive to make the most out of a facilitated discussion can be nullified if the people who make decisions still prefer a top-down, autocratic approach. While it’s not guaranteed that ideas and proposal produced by facilitated teams will get approved, administration should at the very least communicate their openness to the team’s efforts.

c. Choose the right facilitator.

Facilitators can be from within the organisation or a freelance professional.

It is important that you pick a facilitator who is not part of the problem-context or the solution, and is generally perceived as unbiased with no conflict of interest. They must also possess the right attitude and disposition in handling contributions.


Collecting Data

 The more information a facilitator has about the group they will be facilitating, the more effective he or she can be.

 The following are some tips in collecting data as preparation for facilitating a meeting:

a. Communicate ahead with the person who invited you to facilitate the meeting to understand what is expected from the meeting and what is expected from you as a facilitator.  If there are presenters and content experts in the meeting, it’s also best to meet with them beforehand to ensure that you are both on the same page.

b. Ideally, you should also be able to interview or survey participants ahead of time. This can give you time to understand the dynamics of the situation, as well as establish rapport. Ask about the group’s history, their view of the meeting subject, and how the group normally accomplishes things.  It also helps to know ahead if there are reservations about inviting a facilitator.

c. Request documentation about the group’s previous meetings e.g. minutes or progress reports. They will give you an idea of where the group is at the moment.

d. If there’s a sensitive issue involved, know as much as you can about the situation – and even the personalities involved. For instance, knowing that there’s underlying tension about a specific topic will tell you to approach it cautiously.

e. Similarly, knowing who the participants in conflict are can guide you when dividing participants into working groups. Note though:  always triangulate your information gathering method so that you don’t get just one side of the story.

f. Understand the subject matter of the meeting. While facilitators are not content experts, you must know enough about the topic to be able to track the discussion. For example, familiarize yourself with the terms and language of the group. You lose precious time by having to ask the group to explain terms to you.

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