What Facilitation Is and How It Is 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 manage individual issues and competing ideas. Appointed facilitators are used to help management 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, saving the employer valuable time and money.

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, the need to set mutual goals, or 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 employees need 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. Team participants in a group often lack the skill, permission, and support needed to effectively facilitate their own work processes, and a leader helps 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. There are certain methods that they employ to smooth transitions and keep meetings moving in the right direction within a group setting:

  • Presenting content and information that is easily digested by all parties present
  • Designing and formulating a process that helps a group achieve its objectives before the meeting starts, and keeping the rhythm of the meeting once it has begun
  • Providing an appropriate structure for a meeting, training, team-building session, or another work event, so that the core mission is accomplished in the session
  • Promoting shared responsibility for the outcome of the meeting
  • Drawing questions and possible solutions from the participants in order to build a cohesive mindset

Managing Competing Conversations in Meetings

Having effective working relationships with people at work can be difficult. Effective group facilitation in meetings requires certain abilities to manage 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 don't hesitate to take such an action, as part of their purpose is 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—asking for a brief summary of the discussion occurring in the meeting up to that point, and perhaps having the participant share ideas with the rest of the participants. 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, this tactic is better 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 nonverbal timeout sign followed by holding up one index finger to indicate one meeting. If team members have a good relationship, an inside joke between the participants can effectively lighten the mood and ease tension considerably.