With meetings and workshops now commonplace, facilitation is considered a highly desirable  workplace skill; of course, it’s no surprise given the incredible difference a good facilitator can bring to such sessions.

Additionally, when one considers current employment trends, facilitation skills appear to be of even greater value; “empathy, judgement and leadership” being both in-demand skills, and core to the fabric of a good facilitator.

So whether you’re looking for a way to deliver greater value at work, or you’re keen to enhance your resume, honing your facilitation expertise is a great place to start.

At GroupMap, helping people think better together is what we’re all about. Here’s what we think makes a great facilitator along with some practical steps to help you get there.

What is a Facilitator?

A facilitator is a person who enables a group of people to work together more effectively so that they may deliver high-quality outcomes.

Those outcomes could be a range of things, including –

  • capturing and exploring ideas
  • making decisions
  • crafting a shared understanding
  • finding a solution to a problem
  • designing a product
  • achieving a consensus

What Makes a Great Facilitator?

A great facilitator sets the stage so that the group can perform together at their very best. The facilitator does this by supporting the two key elements of a collaborative session –

1. The Collaborative Process

The collaborative process is what happens during the session, as well as how, where and when it happens.

When building a process a facilitator considers –

  • the outcome required of the session and the date by which it is needed
  • who needs to be involved
  • what needs to happen at the beginning, middle and end of the session to deliver that outcome
  • how time should be allocated
  • if the session is to be in-person, online or both
  • when the session is to be held in order to deliver the outcomes when they are needed

2. The Collaborative Environment

A collaborative environment is one conducive to participation, cooperation and focus, and as a result, high-quality outcomes are delivered faster. They are psychologically safe spaces in which participants feel acknowledged, accepted and respected.  

In shaping a collaborative environment, a facilitator will demonstrate –

  • Respect: by recognising and acknowledging the intrinsic value of each participant in the session
  • Empathy: by putting aside their own context in order to be open to embrace a genuine understanding of that of the participant
  • Neutrality: by putting aside any bias, prejudice or agenda, so that only the inputs of the group shape the outcomes of the session

The facilitator will foster open channels of communication, ensuring –

  • input is honest
  • participation is balanced
  • conflict is respectfully addressed

A great facilitator remembers that, despite the fact all eyes may be upon them, they are not the star of the show; the stars are the participants, and it’s their time to shine.

What You Can do to Become a Better Facilitator

1. Get Organised

Whether you’re delivering an hour-long meeting, a half-day workshop, or week-long training, you need some sort of overview or agenda that outlines –

  • the purpose of the session
  • who is participating
  • when and where the session will happen
  • the steps that constitute the session
  • a timeframe

If you find yourself pulled in to deliver a session that isn’t supported with an outline, take the time to construct one with the group there and then. A quick brainstorm will ensure the purpose of the session is clear and the group is focussed; the smooth delivery of the session will make up for the time you spend with this initial gathering of thoughts.

  • send out calendar invitations along with the session overview well in advance.
  • lock in the resources you need to deliver the session

2. Open Those Channels of Communication

  • Kick off with an icebreaker to warm the group up; icebreakers are known to increase group engagement and focus.
  • Take the time to work with the group to establish the ‘house rules’ for the session. When members of a group know what they can expect of others and what is expected of them, the likelihood of participation increases while an environment of psychological safety is supported.
  • Don’t do all the talking; you are the conductor not the orchestra.
  • Deliver information in easily digestible steps; too much information will be overwhelming.
  • Allow for silence and thinking time. It allows individuals to consider their responses before sharing them.
  • Listen and paraphrase what is said to ensure you have understood things correctly.
  • Look to the body language of participants for additional cues.
  • Draw out and make space for reticent or quieter participants to contribute, and stack conversations to support balanced participation.

3. Keep an Eye on the Time

  • Allocate a time to each of the session steps, and stick to it!
  • Ensure participants are aware of the timeframes within which they are working.
  • Call out and wrap up circular conversations.
  • Park discussion if consensus can’t be reached and circle back if time allows.

4. Maintain the Focus

  • Use the number of inputs generated by the group as an indicator of their engagement; positively reinforce effort, it will inspire more participation and reinforce focus.
  • Check in regularly to assess energy levels; when energy wanes so does focus.
  • Listen out for chatter; it is a helpful barometer that can point to –
    • The completion of a task – so move the session on to the next step
    • Disengaged and distracted groups – so remind participants of the session’s purpose
  • If a participant seems off-topic, explore if their opinions support the purpose of the meeting.

5. Embrace a Facilitator’s Mindset

  • Be curious. Use questions and phrases such as –
    • What did you mean when you said…
    • Tell me more about…
    • What would that look like?
  • Adopt the mantra “it’s not about me”. Despite our very best of efforts, possibly only the most self-actualized of people are able to consistently exude respect, empathy and neutrality; this is a work-around until you get there.

Start Facilitating Today

GroupMap is an online collaboration tool designed by facilitators for facilitators. It helps you construct and deliver a polished collaboration process, and includes features that support the curation of a collaborative environment too.

GroupMap can be used to support face-to-face, virtual and hybrid sessions. It captures data as you go; there’s no tedious note transposing at the end of your workshop because GroupMap does it all for you!

Have more questions or would like a demo?

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