What skills a facilitator need to become an effective facilitator
Being a facilitator is an art that can be mastered through practice. Thus, an effective facilitator needs knowledge of facilitation and correct attitude and equip with useful skills. In this article we will have a look at some main skills that a facilitator should master!
Plan A - Z
Facilitation needs a path to follow so that the success can be measured. A plan involves managing a group, familiarizing with group nature, knowing a group´s objectives, and stocking our back-up plan. Having options to pull from will provide a facilitator with flexibility and allow him/her to change things that based on the group’s needs. To start planning theses are possible questions to think about: The session objectives—what will success look like?
Does the group need to do any “pre” work before meeting? Does any member of the group need more support?
How long do you have to run the session? Is the time allotted realistic to meet the goals of the session?
What do you know about the group in the room? What personalities and dynamics are at play?
What will the session space look like? How can you best prepare for this?
What materials do you need to achieve the meeting goals?
How will you form debriefing questions? (To be discussed in a following article)
To plan a session is like closing the eyes and imagining all the details of a session. The more questions we ask to ourselves, the better preparation we have. However, as mentioned at the beginning, facilitation is an art, so it will never go 100% according to our plan. Still, having plans will help us keep calm, have more tools to be flexible, and grab hard on our main goals.
Know your people
Nothing better than being familiar with our target group, knowing who’s in the room is an essential skill for an effective facilitation. We might ask these questions to ourselves:
How many members are there?
How much do they know about each other?
What are the ages of each member in a group?
What are personalities showing in the group?
What is the power structure in the group?
The more a facilitator know about the group, the better he/she will be able to plan for a successful session and a positive experience. On the other hand, knowing a lot about the group can become two sides of a blade. It can blind us with bias. Thus, it's also important to be mindful and aware of our bias as well as being fully present and an empty glass to observe the present dynamic.
Walking in a middle path, a neutral facilitator or facilitator with an agenda.
This is an important dilemma of the facilitator. In the traditional view, a facilitator should remain completely neutral and focus only on the process of the group, not the content. The facilitator doesn´t need to know the content (even better to not know to avoid bias). The overall goal of facilitators taking the traditional view is to take the group through a process that builds relationships, creates an atmosphere of trust, and produces results that have the support and the commitment of all team members.
On the other hand, there is time that a facilitator gives her or his input in the session. This is what is called a hybrid facilitator or facilitator with an agenda. In this case, the facilitator also focuses on the content of the group and positive outcome. The facilitator has an agenda in mind and tries to guide the group towards it. For example, if a facilitator sees that some ideas have not been brought up yet, she or he might float those ideas and ask for the group´s opinions. Thus, in this case, the facilitator is not fully neutral. However, it's crucial to be mindful and clear with the group of a role in each moment: as a member or a facilitator)
Both styles have their own strengths and potential weaknesses as follow:
Strengths: Higher possibility that the group will implement what they agree because all ideas come from the group. Likewise, they are likely to for solutions by themselves before turning to the facilitator. Regarding the facilitator power, there will be less chance to become a “facipulator” – guiding the group to solutions that they don’t create or own.
Strengths The facilitator may be more likely to be active in facilitating the discussion. The facilitator is more likely to offer thoughts that stimulate the group’s thinking. The facilitator is more likely to bring out potential suitable solutions for the group.
Potential Weaknesses The facilitator is less likely to offer thoughts that stimulate the group’s thinking which can be a potential suitable solution. The facilitator may be more likely to become less active in facilitating and managing the discussion The clients may be less likely to see the value of the facilitator apart from setting up the agenda and ensuring ground rules are followed.
Potential Weaknesses: There is high chance that the group will look for solutions from the facilitator rather to themselves. Regarding the facilitator power, there will be more chance to become a “facipulator”” – guiding the group to solutions that they don’t create or own.
Nevertheless, there is no correct way saying how a facilitator should facilitate. Still, having a clear goal and aim is very important as well as being mindful of what she/he is doing as a facilitator. Hence, planning a session and having a concrete goal and role will help us eliminate the confusion and set the boundary.
Having a clear path and tone.
Setting an agreement of a group is one of the first things a facilitator should do. A facilitator can come up with a guideline to help a group get the most of a session or simply ask the group to set their agreement on attitude and behavior. Being concrete as much as possible is the key: how to show respect to the group, how to be fully engaged in the session, and how to manage if there is a conflict. In this case, a facilitator can introduce his or her role during the session: neutral facilitator, active facilitator, or a mix of approaches. If the group has a guideline, they can always return to the guidelines to make sure that they are still on track or to edit them to make them fit the group’s needs better.
Inclusivity is a golden role.
Regarding the principle of respect, a facilitator should make all members of the group feel respected and inclusive. All personalities and levels should be considered before and during the session. For instance, it can be as simple as organizing a seating pattern where everyone is at the same level, creating a diverse set of activities that suit all personalities and learning styles, and ensuring that everyone is on the same page by asking the group: is it clear? Should I repeat again?
As always, the facilitator tries to avoid a dominant role in a group and promote equal participation.
Master your speech.
When a facilitator gives instruction, it should be clear, simple, and preferably visible. To make a clear instruction is to keep it short; say it with a clear pronunciation, good pace, and understandable vocabularies; use visual instruction; and break down a big task into a series of small tasks.
These are some questions facilitators should ask themselves:
How you want people to present this information to the group?
What topics of conversation you want them to cover?
Whether you want them to take notes?
How much time they’ll have for this activity?
Some techniques we can use to give a clear instruction and ensure their comprehension are pre-writing the instruction, asking participants to repeat the step, revealing an instruction little by little (to not overwhelm a group with information).
Master your ears.
Being a good listener is a must, making people feel listened to is a plus! In an active group session, everyone should be on the same page and be heard by a facilitator and members of the group. Thus, the best way to do that is to master our active listening skills and encourage our group to do the same.
Active listening: to fully concentrate on what is being said by a speaker with all senses, observe verbal and non-verbal messages without judgment, and then provide appropriate feedback to the listener. Importantly, it's not only about trying to understand, but also to make the other feel understood. Some tips to improve our listening skills are:
Firstly, we want to make a speaker feel comfortable and yourself to understand the messages. When listening, try to observe verbal and non-verbal messages and give small encouragement for a speaker to continue such as nodding, saying ´Hmm´, eye contact, and so on. We also want to wait until a person finishes a sentence before starting your turn.
Active listening requires an open mind and self-awareness. It is almost impossible to be blank and not have our own ideas. However, when good listeners have strong views, they suspend judgment, hold any criticisms, and avoid interruptions. Instead, they are open to new ideas, new perspectives, and new possibilities when practicing active listening
Reflecting is an active listening technique that indicates that we and the speaker are on the same page. Facilitators can use mirroring, paraphrasing and tracking techniques to check.
It´s repeating back the speaker’s words verbatim. It helps the speaker hear what they just said, shows neutrality, and can help establish trust.
It´s using your own words to say what you think the speaker said to show the speaker and group that their thoughts were heard and understood
It´s keeping track of various lines of thought that are going on simultaneously within a single discussion.
Clarify what it is not clear for us by simply asking the speaker: Let me see if I’m clear. Are you talking about? As an active listener, we would like to emphasize on asking, rather than telling. Like this, it invites a thoughtful response and maintains a spirit of collaboration.
When there are so many things going on in a conversation, it's a wise way to summarize what we’ve understood and encourage the speaker to do the same. This way also helps both sides to be clear on mutual responsibilities and follow-up.
A good active listener is first trying to understand a speaker, clarify their understanding, and share our own ideas, feelings, and suggestions. In the end, a speaker also wants to hear from a listener their points of views and opinions.
There is a time limit for each session, so time management is a crucial skill. As a facilitator, you want to divide time wisely for each process to reach your aim. There are many ways to keep track of your time management smoothly: having a big clock one the wall, wearing a watch, or giving a person in charge of time keeping. Another important thing is to inform the group about the time so that they will not be interrupted in the middle. For example, you can remind them in a series of left-over time (but use it wisely because you don't want to turn this to pressure.)
Magic bags and elastic body
Be as flexible as an elastic band and have unlimited tools in our magic bags. As a nature of dealing with humans, there is not such a static and 100% predictable situation. It means a facilitator must be ready to change and adjust the situation to still reach the aim. That's one of the reasons why having a plan A-B-C will come handy when an unexpected situation happens. We try to have backup tool kits for everything like name games, icebreakers, energizers, and team building activities.
Being a facilitator is also to be an emotional receptor.
Even if our plan is well prepared, if a group is not in a learning condition, it will not be effective. Sometimes we need to match the activity we have in mind with the energy of the group and sometimes you need to find ways to boost a low-energy group’s enthusiasm and excitement. Keep in mind that our focus is on a group benefit not a plan we have prepared.
There are more skills out there to explore and practice. But to start with having the right attitudes, knowing our roles, and having skills is a good start!
Facilitation is an integral component of practice development and action learning - Jennifer M Newton