Every now and then I get asked to train budding or experienced practitioners how to facilitate. This involves input and interesting discussions on formats and methods, visualisation and dealing with large groups, small groups, managers and citizens. All of these things are important for making facilitation work, but the crucial thing people need to learn and practice is how to really embody the role.
- Here are some musts:
- Ask the right question. The right question is not necessarily the one you prepared. It’s the one that the group needs to find a way to reach the goal of the dialogue/workshop. And it may be a whole string of questions. It might make sense to pose them all at once and have small groups work simultaneously on them. Or it might make sense to build on each and hold people back. Making sense here means facilitating the most inclusive and efficient way to goal.
- How to ask a question and really be interested in the collective answer (i.e. in the process leading to participants finding their own individual and then the group answer). Not interested in relation to the facilitator’s own opinion, but because he/she really cares that the group achieves its goal and creates a joint solution or idea or makes a change or strategy its own.
- How to make sure people are able to understand each other. The facilitator must facilitate the movement of meaning from one person to another. It is his/her responsibility.
- How to appreciate people who talk a lot, who dominate or burst with an almost uncontrollable need to push their opinion forward. And how to appreciate introverted people or people who would prefer to be anywhere else than in your meeting. How to hold back judgement even when you’re “warned” about certain participants. How to support all the individuals in the group to be part of the whole. You don’t want to change anyone, but you enjoy watching them learn and grow. You live that wonderful Harrison Owen rule: “Who’s here’s here.”
- How to manage the energy in the room positively. The facilitator is responsible for upholding and even creating constructive energy in the room. This starts with the logistics such as light, seating, coffee, fruit, includes managing the convener’s/host’s expectations, playing with tempo and stimulation and culminates in engaging the emotions in the group.
- How to have enough knowledge and experience in the area under discussion to keep things on the right level and not slow the discussion down by lack of fundamental or relevant know how. It’s about encouraging the host/client to provide a sufficient briefing and by hard preparation work reading up about what’s going to matter for the group. The facilitator isn’t the expert, but he/she knows the client, understands the core business/issue and has got to grips with the important opportunities, problems, uncertainties and questions the group is concerned with. The facilitator has also learned not to take one person’s views for the only view and remains open to what comes.
- How to sum up efficiently and create a coherent logic from start to finish. This includes summing up individual statements and increasing the common understanding in the room (see above) and also synthesising the diversity of a discussion to show areas of agreement and disagreement and suggest which questions still need to be addressed. It’s about presenting where we are, where we’ve come from and asking what that means for where we want to go. The facilitator effectively de-clutters the discussion for more focus and inclusion.
These are just some and I’m so grateful to be able to share my understanding of facilitation. I’ve trained about 1500 people in facilitation since 1999. Each training gave me a much clearer picture of what I do and generated plenty of new ideas for how to keep on getting better.