Facilitation: The art of listening and not leading

If the thought of another meeting (either internally or externally) fills you with dread, or a poorly facilitated event leaves participants feeling frustrated and undervalued and organisers wondering why they bothered, then maybe it’s time to evaluate to really understand how to improve for the future and that’s where good facilitation training can really help.

But can’t anyone facilitate?

The answer to that question is yes, but whether they can do it effectively and achieve results is another question.

Facilitators are process specialists, not subject specialists, and so they don’t necessarily know more than those they are facilitating. As experts in group dynamics, they can guide the group towards desired outcomes without offering their own opinion or giving a one-sided delivery of information.

In the same way that foundations are necessary for a stable building, facilitators are necessary for a successful meeting or event. They are responsible for the planning, organising, set up, introducing objectives, setting ground rules with the group and managing the group dynamics.

A facilitator will initiate the discussion encouraging participation and sharing of information, making sure everyone has an input and ensuring that everyone feels that they are in a safe and comfortable environment.

The role of the facilitator is to then manage the whole session, sometimes doubling up as both facilitator and note-taker. The facilitator should not do all of the talking, but should be actively listening and only guide the conversation if it is going off track or the conversation starts to dry up.

Facilitators need to have the skills and ability to read the group, to encourage all to participate and deal with difficult behaviours effectively.

Many organisations think that using those members of staff who have put together either a change programme, a consultation or engagement programme and who are really knowledgeable about the subject are the best people to facilitate, but that is rarely the case, as humans we can end up being defensive should our work be challenged and once that happens the trust is lost between facilitator and participants.

Many people think that a facilitator should achieve consensus around the table, however If you are facilitating for consultation or engament then that is the last thing that you want, the whole point of consultation is to take note of individual views and everyone being able to express their point of view.

Why have a facilitator?

  1. To ensure a heightened understanding

By having a facilitator, you create a focus, not just on the subject material being discussed, but on the way it is delivered and received. A balanced group dynamic ensures that everyone understands what is being discussed so that you can get the best from every participant.

  1. To achieve your objectives

Due to increased understanding and participation, meetings and events become more productive and time efficient. This allows the group to reach a solution which is fair, sustainable and balanced.

Who benefits from having a facilitator?

Facilitation is not always needed. For example, when meetings or events are solely for information sharing, looking at reports or scheduling.

However, for more complex discussions, facilitators can be the difference between success and failure. Often these meetings or events can involve multiple departments all with a different vested interest in the outcome. A facilitator prevents conflicts by refocusing and allowing new ideas and strategies to be bought forward.

Businesses and public sector organisations are becoming more aware of the importance of having well trained staff with the skills necessary to facilitate to manage and maintain effective communication with stakeholders.

So, who in your team has a facilitative mindset?

How do I create a facilitating mindset in my team?

In times of austerity, many organisations and particularly those in the Public Sector are looking at how to achieve value for money by utilising existing staff and resources, rather than procuring an external facilitator to engage and consult with communities and stakeholders.

We provide an intensive 1-day course which is an opportunity to explore the skills and qualities required for effective facilitators. Through exercises and chronology, participants will understand the importance of remaining impartial, how to meet the expectations of stakeholders and how to overcome some of the barriers to good facilitation.

But, is our Facilitation for Consultation course right for you and your business?

Some people are naturally right for an engagement role; however, all great facilitators have gained skills and knowledge from others to best facilitate events.

If in 2018 you looking to overcoming barriers to great facilitation for your team and your business,  contact us to sign onto our Facilitation for Consultation course or to find out more.

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