Facilitators, in short, wear many hats. A skilled facilitator can greatly impact a group by inspiring, motivating, building teamwork, and in turn, achieving organizational success. They make things easier for the group as a whole and help everyone to get things done. Organizations need excellent facilitators to coordinate groups, resolve conflicts or handle a wide variety of situations, regardless of their complexity.
Great facilitators are in many ways, great project managers. While the group as a whole will be working towards a common goal, the facilitator's goal is to improve the processes, minimize blockers, and help the group achieve said goals.
A facilitator will often find it difficult or even counterproductive to play the role of a contributor. The group as a whole will be the primary contributors, and it is the facilitator that is there to encourage this participation, moderate it, and ensure that every single person can have their say and take part.
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In order to be a successful facilitator, you must take inspiration from those around you who expertly played the role and those who are a vital cog in the process while working away in the background. Learning from these people and observing exactly what it is that makes them good at what they do can be one of the best ways to learn how to do it yourself.
There are a series of traits that will link these people together. As we mentioned earlier, the skills of a capable facilitator are similar to those of an adept project manager. This list is, of course, not exhaustive, but it does contain some of the main skills and traits that any good facilitator will and should have.
Now let's dive in a bit more in-depth into each of these skills, traits, and characteristics.
Listening is a key characteristic of any facilitator, and it’s an indispensable one that you must work to develop. Both being able to listen to others and encouraging others to listen to one another are equally as important. A facilitator needs to be able to actively listen to their group and understand what they are trying to say. Paraphrasing, summing up, or using other active listening techniques are great ways to fully grasp and gauge the meaning of what people are saying.
Likewise, the best facilitators will highlight the importance of active listening to the group and make them better listeners as a result. Arranging exercises to encourage this particular skill or setting ground rules at the start of a meeting can be great ways to ensure that everyone involved takes the time to listen to what others have to say and create a space that encourages listening.
This active listening exercise can help to create this atmosphere and encourage participants to buy into the importance of active listening.
Asking questions is one of the best ways to spark discussions, debates, and collaborative thinking. The facilitator does not want to simply talk to the group and constantly tell them what to do, what to think, and to opine their own opinion - they are a facilitator, not a contributor. Asking open-ended questions that can initiate discussions that lead to solutions in a way that is much more valuable to everyone involved. For more on that topic just click the link!
The facilitator must also know how to probe respectfully, firstly to get people out of their comfort zones, but also to encourage participants to delve deeper into their thoughts to get more out of the meeting. Curiosity may have killed the cat but it can also be the best way to gather insights. This can thus help to open up the meeting to creative and innovative back and forths.
If facilitating a meeting and you are concerned that people won't be comfortable enough to open up and express their honest views, then why not consider providing them with a platform that allows the to submit their input (including questions and responses) anonymously?
A good facilitator needs to be authentic. People will soon tune out, disengage, and not trust what you are saying if you are, or come across as, insincere. Being authentic will help you connect with and better relate to the participants. To be an authentic facilitator, you must create a safe space within which individuals are encouraged to open up and express themselves without fear or hesitancy.
If people do not feel comfortable or safe conveying their feelings, both they and the facilitator won’t be able to present their true authentic selves. If this happens to be the case then many will feel that participating in the meeting and offering up honest opinions is not worth their time and effort. Without trust and authenticity, the meeting is sure to be a waste of time.
Having an unbiased perspective and not tainting others’ opinions with your own is crucial to allowing open and worthwhile discussions - remember facilitator, not contributor. You don’t want to push your views onto others, instead, you want to create a forum where people can freely discuss and express themselves, allowing problems to be solved and decisions to be made.
It also goes without saying that treating all participants as equal will ensure that you maintain honest and open-minded conversations. It will be crystal clear to participants if the facilitator is trying to steer the conversation and push their own agendas or views onto the group. An excellent facilitator provides an unbiased space for alternative opinions and views to be brought up respectfully. The aim should be to help steer the group towards a successful outcome, not your desired outcome.
A facilitator needs to know what kind of energy they need to bring to the table, how to channel it, and how to get the group singing from the same hymn sheet as it were. A facilitator’s energy and demeanor are key to setting the tone and energy of the meeting. This requires you to read the room, understand the participants, understand the objectives of the group, and adapt when necessary.
A good facilitator can help to inspire, encourage, and motivate the group to provoke solutions and creative ideas if there is a brainstorming exercise or bring the energy back down if a serious discussion needs to be had. The capability to manage the emotions in the room will be of great help when constructive conversations and to keep the meeting on track.
If you need something to warm up the group then consider starting off your meeting with an icebreaker. The one we included above is both a good way to spark some creative thinking and a quick discussion.
As they say, patience is indeed a virtue and it is a fundamental trait when it comes to facilitating. Staying calm during discussions or when things get heated is important to limit any tensions or situations before they occur. As the facilitator, you want to help improve the situation so leading by example and keeping composed is essential. It is almost unavoidable that sometimes things just don’t go to plan.
Whether it be technical or process issues, things just don’t always go how you thought they would. The facilitator must ensure they are patient and resolve the issue by encouraging dialogues and introducing different questions to the group as the purpose or plan changes and adapts. If you are calm then the group will be calm, if you remain patient and keep a level head then those around you will also be encouraged to do so.
This is an interesting trait and applies both to the time spent in the meeting and to the planning time before the meeting even kicks off. Preparatory work can go a long way to improving the flow of a brainstorming session, a workshop, a seminar, or any kind of meeting. Plan out how what activities you will do, how long each will take, and what you can do to best aid the group. Consider putting together an agenda guests can look over before the meeting. The more prepared you and everyone else are the better.
Keeping participants on track and keeping the conversation aligned with the main outcome is important and sometimes tricky. It is human nature that conversations go off on a tangent, which can provide some of the most interesting and constructive discussions but the facilitator needs to know when and how to bring the conversation back to the main purpose of the meeting. If the meeting is too long people will tune out and not focus, therefore managing the time is a tricky but essential part of facilitating.
Many of you will probably be wondering this and it’s certainly a question worth asking and one worth trying to answer. Simply put, a facilitator aims to let the group achieve their goals by providing them with the best situation to do so. The goal of a facilitator is to see a group reach its goal. Not to define the outcome, to influence the result, or to influence the end product. Their role is advisory and in the background.
A person running, or leading a meeting, will try to work towards a set goal or objective, steer the group in that direction, and work together to achieve it. They will probably contribute, take a more active role, and help steer discussions, conversations, and activities in a direction of their choosing.
Becoming an excellent facilitator takes time and practice. The skills you need will be honed and tweaked over many years of preparing and practicing in live situations. It is unlikely that one day you will suddenly wake up with all the polished skills of the perfect facilitator - sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
Putting in the dedicated hard work to improve your facilitation skills will reap rewards in the long term and ultimately be the founding difference between being a mediocre facilitator and an excellent one. By observing and honing the skills mentioned above, as well as understanding the role of a facilitator, you can effectively and amply facilitate any type of meeting.
Becoming a good facilitator can be done with some work and some self-reflection. But there are a handful of ways you can make facilitating meetings easier - no matter if you are a rookie or an experienced vet! Mentimeter is designed to encourage audience participation, gather questions, generate ideas, and ensure that no voice in the room is unheard.
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