Facilitationby Steve Roche
Being a good facilitator is both a skill and an art. It is a skill in that you can learn techniques and improve with practice. It is an art in that some people just have more of a knack for it than others.
Each facilitator leads a group in a unique way. This is a result of the mix of their values and norms, psychological make-up, degree of skill and development, plus the objectives and composition of the group, together with the cultural context.
Who are you when you are a facilitator?
What parts of you are expressed?
Ultimately, your style is determined by you as a person – the unique and distinctive process of your creative and selective imagination, and of your way of being present in and to the world. Your personal style manifests in the way you relate to others, like your signature in action. It becomes more fully revealed as behaviour becomes more and more authentic.
Your facilitator style reflects what you deeply value about human development. Also your personal principles – the guiding norms for action that follow from personal values, such as respect for people.
Good training and feedback helps to create and develop facilitator style, by alerting you to a wide range of issues and options. The main elements of effective training are listed below.
You need to be able to discriminate within a wide repertoire of policies and strategies so you can pick and choose appropriately. You must also be able to assess your own strengths and weaknesses: which bits are you good at and which not?
You need a model of good facilitation so you know what you are aiming for. Ideally, you need to witness live demonstrations of what it is to make interventions well.
You need the opportunity to practise interventions in role plays or for real in small groups and, when it goes wrong, to rerun the practice until it goes right.
Facilitation is creating a space in which people can empower themselves.
You need feedback from your peers and your trainer, so you can learn how you slip off track and get confirmation when you are on it.
The more personal development work you have done, the more flexibility you have within yourself for facilitating development processes within your group.
Facilitators need to be aware of their impact on the team. Who is responsible for the decisions taken? The different modes or styles can be represented on a continuum in which power shifts from the facilitator on the left to the whole group on the right.
At the start of an event, facilitators are given power by virtue of their position. However, as their fundamental task is to enable the team to achieve results, they need to be wary of the temptation to over-use power hierarchically.
The facilitator is in control, telling the group what to do, perhaps making decisions about the task or process, and probably feeling personally responsible for the success or failure of the team.
Dangers of this mode:
- The facilitator may not move the team in the right direction
- The more power the facilitator holds, the less the team have, so they may become de-motivated.
Advantages of this mode:
- If progress is slow, a unilateral decision can move things on usefully
- The experience of the facilitator may allow them to see more efficient or productive ways forward.
The facilitator seeks to engage others on an equal basis, by creating an open problem-solving atmosphere in which all are able to contribute. Holding back on the facilitator’s own solutions generates an ‘in it together’ feel.
Dangers of this mode:
- The team may feel concerned about being without leadership
- Progress may be slow, as consensus-based methods depend on all voices (including dissenting ones) being heard.
Advantages of this mode:
- Everyone’s abilities are engaged, allowing more perspectives, deeper analysis and, potentially, better results
- If people ‘own’ the work, they are more motivated and involved, find it more rewarding and, again, create better results
- It can be empowering in the wider sense – people learn skills and develop confidence, becoming more effective in all their activities, giving the organisation long-term benefits.
Autonomous and abdication
Neither of these is generally helpful. In autonomous mode the team learns to operate without facilitation. A workshop or meeting is too short a time to progress to this level of independence.
Abdication occurs when the facilitator simply stops helping and leaves the team to it, before it is ready.
What do you do?
Assess honestly your own understanding and use of these styles. Do you have a preferred mode in which you operate in your usual organisational activities?
How NOT to facilitate
If you want to achieve the worst possible results, follow these ten easy steps!
- Don’t bother with preparation, especially talking to anybody before the event.
- Assume that everything you need will be at the venue, and that somebody will take care of all practical arrangements.
- Be confident that all the right people will turn up, at the right time and place, in the right frame of mind and knowing what to expect.
- Work to your own fixed agenda and process, taking as much time as you need.
- Insist on your own techniques and rules, assuming others share your beliefs and values.
- Promote your own ideas and content; get your personal agenda through at all costs.
- Work only with the helpful people, ignoring any who argue or don’t get involved.
- Firmly stamp out all conflict, questioning, dissent or hesitancy.
- When you have achieved your objectives, leave immediately, trusting that someone else will clear up and deal with the output.
- Get straight on with the next piece of work.