What Facilitation Is and How Is It Useful to Employers

Coworkers sitting around conference table with a facilitator leading
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Employers use facilitation to process trainers, build teams, and shape leaders. It can also effectively manages individual issues and competing ideas. Appointed facilitators are used to help a group of people achieve the goal set forth in their meeting. The main role of a facilitator is to add value to a group planning session or meeting by keeping the group on-task and moving together in the same direction.

Characteristics of Good Facilitators

Facilitation is a learned skill that comes most naturally to individuals who demonstrate certain characteristics.

  • Strong group leadership skills
  • Deep knowledge of group processes and structures
  • Knowledge of group and interpersonal dynamics and an understanding of verbal and nonverbal communication
  • The ability to creatively present training and team building content in a way that encourages participation from session attendees
  • Empathy for people and their situations
  • Powerful listening and communication skills
  • The ability to structure group interventions and events, producing the desired result

Individual Facilitation

When individuals take part in the process it is usually because two or more employees are experiencing conflict, disagreement, need to set mutual goals, or there is a need to debrief a project, process, or experience. A skilled facilitator can be sourced from within the company and can provide the structure, content, and process needed by the individual employees to reach a mutually satisfying solution.

Under the leadership of a skilled facilitator, meetings, team building sessions, and training classes can achieve results not possible without an arbitrating figure. This is often because team participants in a group lack the skill, permission, and support needed to effectively facilitate their own work processes, and a leader is required to assist in their development.

Group Facilitation

Facilitation of groups or teams is provided by internal employees, or external consultants, who are skilled at certain traits that keep the ball rolling and the participants on track.

  • Presenting content and information
  • Designing and formulating a process that helps a group achieve its objectives
  • Providing an appropriate structure for a meeting, training, team building session, or another work event, so that the mission of the group is accomplished in the session
  • Promoting shared responsibility for the outcome of the meeting
  • Drawing questions and possible solutions from the participants

Managing Competing Conversations in Meetings

It is often difficult to have effective working relationships with people at work. Effective group facilitation in meetings requires certain skills and manages the interaction of competing conversations.

  • Nonverbal communication: Raising an eyebrow or waving to the participants can communicate the need to either stop or backtrack. Stopping the person who has the floor for a minute while the other participants rejoin the group can be more effective if done without words, as it has a softer touch. Good facilitators are not afraid of doing this—as it is part of their purpose to control the flow of the meeting.
  • The ability to ask questions: A facilitator might call on one of the group members participating in the competing conversation. They will ask for a brief summary of the discussion occurring in the meeting up to that point, and might the participant to share their ideas with the rest of the people in the meeting. The initial wording might seem unnatural but it serves two purposes: It brings the side conversation into the main conversation, and it can clarify the purpose and hopefully bring an outcome more quickly.
  • Having the confidence to intervene: Asking the group members participating in the competing conversation to rejoin the group discussion, without using sarcasm or anger, is a key skill. The facilitator may say something like "I'm afraid we're missing good ideas when everyone is talking at once. I know I can't keep track of all of these thoughts." Generally, it is better to use this tactic as a second or third attempt to pull people in. It is direct and very effective but can embarrass team members who were not aware of their behavior and didn't absorb the more subtle hints.
  • Establish a group signal: The group signal reminds participants to hold one discussion at a time. A signal that works effectively is to make a non-verbal time out sign followed by holding up one index finger to indicate one meeting. If there is a good relationship among team members, a joke can also be an effective tool. An inside joke between the participants can lighten the mood and ease tension considerably.