What Facilitation Is and How It Is Useful to Employers?

Facilitators can resolve conflict, increase productivity, and more

Coworkers sitting around conference table with a facilitator leading
••• Klaus Vedvelt/Iconica/Getty Images

Facilitators are designated individuals who help groups reach a decision, plan, or outcome that everyone fully agrees on and commits to achieving. Facilitators are guides, rather than leaders, and through facilitation, they help resolve conflict and guide groups toward meeting shared goals.

Facilitation is used by many businesses to increase productivity, resolve conflict, improve teamwork, and more.

What Is Facilitation in Business?

In business, employers use facilitation to build teams and shape leaders. The main role of a facilitator is to add value to a group planning session or meeting by keeping a group on task and making progress, which saves the employer valuable time and money. Facilitators can also help resolve conflict and manage employee concerns.

Facilitation can be done in individual sessions, or a facilitator may participate in a group event or meeting.

Characteristics of Good Facilitators

Facilitation is a learned skill, but it depends on certain characteristics such as:

A skilled facilitator can either come from inside a company or be brought in as an outside expert.

Group Facilitation

In groups, facilitators use a variety of methods to smooth transitions and keep meetings moving in the right direction:

  • Presenting content or reframing information so it can be easily understood.
  • Providing an appropriate structure for a meeting, training, or team-building session so the core mission is accomplished.
  • Drawing questions and possible solutions from the participants in order to build a cohesive mindset.
  • Promoting shared responsibility for the outcome of the meeting.

Many teams don't have a leader who can assist in their development, manage difficult discussions, or keep meetings focused and productive. Facilitation for groups or teams keeps participants on track and working towards concrete goals.

Using Facilitation to Manage Competing Conversations

One common impediment to creating effective working relationships is known as competing conversations. When this happens, groups are unable to communicate effectively and forward progress stalls.

Effective group facilitation in meetings can help manage the interaction of competing conversations, control the flow of a meeting, and teach teams how to communicate more effectively with each other. Some techniques facilitators use to promote communication include:

  • Nonverbal signals: 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 other participants rejoin the group can be more effective if done without words, which can make individuals feel singled out or put on the spot.
  • Asking questions: A facilitator might ask one of the group members participating in the competing conversation for a brief summary of the discussion up to that point or suggest that they share ideas with the rest of the participants. This brings the side conversation into the main conversation and reminds participants of the overall purpose of the meeting.
  • Direct intervention: Facilitators may ask group members in the competing conversation to rejoin the group discussion. This is done in a neutral, encouraging tone, without using sarcasm or anger. Direct intervention is effective but has the potential to embarrass team members who were not aware of their behavior or didn't absorb earlier subtle hints.
  • Group signals: group signal, such as making a timeout sign and holding up an index finger, can be agreed on in advance by all participants. It can then be used by the facilitator to remind everyone to hold one discussion at a time. This is especially effective in the long term, as teams can continue to use it after the facilitator is no longer working with them.

Individual Facilitation

Facilitation can also be used individually, usually to resolve one-on-one issues between coworkers or between employees and their managers.

Individual facilitation can be used to settle disagreements, set mutual goals, or debrief a project, process, or experience. In these cases, a facilitator provides the structure, content, and process that employees need to reach a mutually satisfying solution.

Either individually or in groups, many workers lack the skill, permission, and support needed to effectively facilitate their own work processes or conflict resolution. With the help of facilitation, businesses can create a culture of respect and teamwork, empowering their employees to achieve results not possible without an arbitrating figure.