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Common Behaviors of Great Facilitators

Effective facilitators display a variety of behaviors that make them successful at what they do. These include:

  • Gathering data prior to the facilitation
  • Staying focused and positive
  • Striving for consensus
  • Having a plan, but remaining flexible
  • Staying on the sidelines

Let’s discuss each of these and how these behaviors enable for successful facilitation:

Gathering data prior to the facilitation:  Prior to any facilitation effort, be sure that you have information about the participants, the business, the goals and objectives of the meeting, brainstorming event or problem solving session you are facilitating. As a best practice, I send a survey out to all participants for events I am facilitating in order to get an understanding of individual goals and objectives and expectations. If this is not the first session and the group has met before, I want to get information on the past efforts. By having a thorough understanding of the business, I understand the culture (norms, politics, etc.) of the organization which enables me to ensure that my facilitation efforts are in sync with how things work within the organization. Without this background information, it is difficult to be successful as a facilitator.

Staying focused and positive: Some session you facilitate will undoubtedly be filled with negativity, antagonism and lack of participation. Participants may be defensive, distrusting and cynical. Your goal as a facilitator is to be sure you don’t get wrapped up in the negativity and don’t let that negativity take control. Help participants stay focused on the purpose of the meeting. Use a variety of techniques to control those participants who want to get off track. One method I use successfully is a “round robin” approach when participants take turns in sharing information rather than permitting individuals to shout out to be heard. I work with the participants to set ground rules and norms over how the meeting will run so that we stay focused and on point. Having an understanding of the participants and past situations prior to the facilitation effort enables you to be prepared for such situations.

Striving for consensus: Of course consensus is not always possible. However, your goal as a facilitator is to drive the group toward consensus in all decisions being made and ensuring that participants feel as if their concerns and thoughts have been heard and taken into consideration. A key task for facilitators is to listen carefully, help the participants to build on each other’s ideas and ensure that they are, in fact, listening to their peers. Outcomes should reflect the suggestions, ideas, thoughts of all participants. Be prepared to draw out the quieter participants by emphasizing the importance of everyone providing input to ensure that a solution arrived at is best for everyone and incorporates the expertise throughout the room.

Having a plan, but remaining flexible: Of course you want a process and plan in place for the session you facilitating; but be prepared for anything! The best processes and plans are flexible to enable for changing direction based on the session and how it is progressing. While I have regular strategies, processes and tools I use when facilitating sessions, I’m always prepared to “turn on the dime” if needed based on what I learn during the session and the direction that conversations are taking.

Staying on the sidelines: Don’t get involved! As a facilitator you should not be participating in the conversations or sharing your own ideas or thoughts – even if asked! My talking during facilitated sessions is to provide guidance and keep people focused; to keep the conversation moving, resolve disagreements  – certainly not to offer my own ideas. For some folks this is not always easy to do – the tendency is to jump in and participate. Remember your goal as a facilitator is to help the participants to succeed in their endeavors through keeping them focused and on track. Stay back in the shadows.

Remember, facilitation is not easy and takes a concerted effort to help a group stay focused. Nearly every session I have facilitated, for a variety of clients in a variety of industries – from senior executive strategy sessions to small department planning sessions – has required me to spend time getting to know the participants and the culture of the organization to be successful.

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