You have been asked to ‘facilitate’! Congratulations and don’t panic. It can be quite simple and easy if you prepare. This launch plan is designed to give you the basic knowledge you will need and some tools to help you. This is the ‘note card’ version of the entire encyclopedia of knowledge surrounding facilitation.
James Carter is the Founder and CEO of Be Legendary. He has spoken for hundreds of groups and thousands of people while training hundreds of new and experienced facilitators on how to facilitate meaningful activities. James is also the co-author of two books with others like Stephen Covey, Ken Blanchard, Deepak Chopra and Brian Tracy. James lives in Boulder, CO with his family and rides his bike as much as possible.
What is Facilitation?
Facilitation means to make something easier.
In the purest form, a facilitator neither adds or detracts but makes the entire process easier.
In the real world, you are a manager or internal/external facilitator.
As a manager, your challenge is to not have everyone watch you for cues of approval or lack thereof. Your team must trust that you are not going to use the workout against them in some way. This is the time for your team to practice so making mistakes is GREAT. Miscommunication is GREAT. Conflict is GREAT. You need to give them permission to be themselves and not worry about you judging them.
As an internal/external facilitator, NOT adding to the conversation is incredibly difficult. You want everyone to see your value and what you ‘bring to the table’. This is especially true if you are a subject matter expert. If you insert or add too much, they will simply start to look to you for the solution and will learn nothing.
Some of the best facilitation I have ever seen was when we got to the end and I realized the facilitator had moved us to a powerful learning conclusion but rarely spoke.
#2 - What is a Facilitator?
The facilitator is responsible for the process of the meeting — how the participants work together. The facilitator should be neutral and non-evaluating. The facilitator should encourage the participants to use the most effective methods for accomplishing their task in the shortest amount of time.
- Set a positive tone for discussion immediately
- Remain neutral to the discussion. You are here to make this process better, faster and NOT to add
- Allow GOOD conflict to occur while protecting the emotional safety of the team
- Keep the group moving forward focused
- Keep track of time
- Select methods and procedures that can help the group work better
- Encourage participation by everyone, seek out and solicit from quiet team members
- Educate/Inform participants about activities and steps but NOT about the content. Remember, you are neutral.
- Protect ideas
- Coordinate administrative details of the meeting
- Ensure information is recorded in some way
Set the Tone:
Your opening remarks will set the tone of the session. Will the session be structured and formal or will it be friendly and informal?
As the facilitator remember to:
- Clarify the purpose and what the expected outcomes of the meeting
- Introduce yourself and the role you will play clearly
- Explain the agenda, ground rules and any handouts
- Let the participants add/subtract to the above
- Use some kind of Learning Activity, if it makes sense and will improve the overall success of the group. Check out How to Run and Debrief a Learning Activity execution plan.
Using the opportunity to ask questions that get participants to answer the way you want. In other words, manipulating the conversation
in the debrief so self-discovery cannot happen.
Or even worse, to use the opportunity to show everyone how smart YOU are. This process is not about you or what you know!
Creating a safe and comfortable space for self and group discovery.
You are responsible no only for their physical safety, but their emotional safety as well. If your team feels safe, they will share and learn. If they don’t, they will keep the ‘company hat’ on, tell you and the team what they want to hear and nothing will change.
Letting the team struggle is the single greatest challenge.
We are all products of modern ‘education’ which means we are very familiar with a particular style of learning.
DO NOT ‘save’ the team when they are struggling.
DO NOT ‘instruct’ them like a teacher would. This is a form of ‘saving’ the group and also make YOU front and center when the focus is on the team.
Ignore any training and/ or past experience you may have had in instruction or education as a ‘teacher’ or ‘trainer’.
Of all the elements in experiential learning, the facilitator has the greatest impact upon the ultimate success or failure of the program.
- You’re Facilitative vs. Directive.
Good facilitators know that they’re not here to “fix” anyone. They understand that they don’t always need to have all the answers. As a facilitator, you see your job as one where you help the participants expand the horizons of their awareness, and facilitate them taking responsibility for their actions, past, present, and future.
- You’re not a “know-it-all.”
Being the facilitator doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be the “authority” on the subject at hand. The amount of brilliance unleashed in your team depends on how well you let go of your need to know more than anyone else.
- Be a guide on the side vs. a sage on stage.
The way most of us were raised and schooled, we were conditioned to shut up and listen to the wisdom of the “expert” on the podium or the person “in charge.” Approach facilitation from the perspective that the wisdom in the “room” is far more potent than the “sage” in front of the room, you’ll see the participants more engaged, having more fun, and achieving greater results. Read more.
- You are rarely heard.
You ask questions, participants discuss and dialogue. You paraphrase and probe. Participants speak. Participants realize you have said very little the entire time.
#3 - Types of Facilitation
This the most common form of group work.
People sit, normally in a circle, and discussed ‘what just happened’. The facilitator asks a series questions to elicit dialogue amongst everyone and keeps everyone on track.
However, there are other debriefing methods as well that you may want to consider.
This simple technique aims to raise participation levels or to help define a problem by asking each person in the group to state their views on the issue under discussion without being interrupted by anyone else in the group. This means that all the ideas and views are raised at one time but the facilitator gets the group to summarize these ideas and views before the group moves on.
This is a simple technique that encourages individuals to express their thoughts on the issue under discussion by writing key words onto Post-it notes and then collectively placing and arranging them into sub groups on a flipchart or wall space.
I have found this to be particular effective when you are attempting to create alignment or commonalities amongst a large group.
Also, it is a great visual representation of the ideas.
The sticky notes make it easy to move them from place to place.
If you do this, gather everyone around the wall space or flip chart paper and get them to help you categorize them. This is almost necessary if you are working on technical information and you are not a subject matter expert.
This technique allows groups to use Brainstorming to generate a long list of ideas, and then narrow these ideas into a manageable size for realistic consideration and selection of the best ideas. It allows the whole group to be involved in the selection process and ultimately saves the group a great deal of time.
#4 - Types of Sessions
Aside from teaching the material yourself, experience is the best teacher.
I like experiential learning because it shows each of us what we DO and not what we THINK we do.
Experiential learning creates incredible discussion and allows me to examine what I/we do to get at the heart of WHY we do it! Once we know why, we can more easily change the ‘what’.
If you need more information, here is a 13 page Ebook about exactly WHY experiential activities work so well, including statistics and the four key areas addressed with this kind of learning
This is fairly straightforward – you elicit ideas from the group around a particular topic.
One key to really great brainstorming is to ensure no judgment is passed on the ideas. DO NOT engage in discussion about the value of the idea or let it be dismissed by anyone in the group. Make sure EVERY idea is recorded.
Large Group vs. Small Group
There is value in doing this a one large group (10+ people) and also in small groups (3 to 7). The opposite of the Large Group Pros and Cons goes for small groups.
Large Group Pros:
- With large groups everyone can build upon one another and the diversity of thought is better represented.
- As a single facilitator, you can ensure the process of gathering ideas without discussion is followed.
Large Group Cons:
- Only one person can speak at a time which can get old quickly in large groups and people can either not participate or withdraw completely.
Many times I begin in a large group and capture the main ideas as fast as possible, typically within 7-10 minutes. After that, I break them into small groups to further brainstorm but around specific subtopics of the original idea. This works very well in many cases.
If you do this, make sure you leave time for all small groups to report back.
You can also use the meta-planning in the small groups.
This is a form of brainstorming, but focused on action:
- How are we going to measure/monitor/track each?
This is vital for team success to gain commitment for action and should be a simple technique for team use after any type of team event such as meetings, projects, etc.
This is usually done at the end of the meeting, but be sure to leave enough time to cover it thoroughly.
Follow this structure:
- Define the problem
- Present the background
- Generate ideas
- Group ideas
- Choose the idea/s
- Check commitment
#4 - Two Key Facilitation Skills You MUST Get Right
The value of the questions will create value in the answers. Make sure you have thought out your questions carefully. We have several articles to help you get started on this.
Be authentically curious. That is the single greatest piece of advice I can offer. If you are TRULY interested, the questions are fairly easy.
Make sure that eventually you lead the group to an application of what they have learned or at least what they are going to do next time. This will ensure the group has value walking away!
This is the one place that both new and experienced facilitators get tripped up. They neglect to REALLY think about the questions and all the sudden, the room is quiet and everyone is looking at you… It is a VERY uncomfortable situation to realize you had no clue where this was going and what is next.
You are the most difficult person in the room.
In almost EVERY case, a lack of preparation is what creates the problems in facilitation.
It could be that you feel overwhelmed and you are not facilitating YOURSELF.
It could be that you didn’t take the time to really understand the activity or what you are even gathering for as a group.
Many times, as an experienced facilitator, I get complacent and neglect to REALLY think things through.
When any of the above happens, or something else, you can almost always point the finger at the person in the mirror.
When you are 100% prepared, confident and excited about facilitation, a ‘difficult’ person is seen as an opportunity. Because that is what they are. There are some very simple techniques to work with difficult people that you can find here.
#5 - Execute Activity
This says it all.
I cannot tell you how many panicked calls we get from people running an activity in 15 minutes, they looked at the instructions and now have questions. Facilitating while panicked is the worst.
Just be prepared.
“Safety, fun and teachable moments” was the quote one of my first ropes course instructor taught me.
Most of the time, physical safety is not an issue. However, EMOTIONAL SAFETY is an issue. You need to think it through very carefully and make sure you are creating a space where people feel safe to share and to make mistakes. If you are not doing this, the group will have a bad experience. It only takes one or two bad experiences to ruin a group.