For the past 30+ years I have been working with groups of all shapes and sizes and there are a few golden rules for those looking to stretch their facilitation skills. Facilitation is an absolute privilege that requires care and consideration when stepping into the role. You get to be a fly on the wall in some incredible and at times intimate discussions and with that comes a responsibility to take that role both seriously and lightly because you often need both! Here are some foundations in facilitation that sit at the core of the facilitators work to consider;
Content: deals with the topic or issue you are working with. Facilitators are NOT trainers and don’t have to be content experts, they need to understand enough to help ensure the context is accessible in terms of language, volume and structure so the people in the room can be the real experts. Process: deals with the how the group moves and has its discussion. A professional facilitator has a variety of processes that they draw on to support a group achieve the desired goal. Process is the gold that a facilitator offers and always needs to be matched to purpose, otherwise you end up just doing party games! Feeling: deals with the fact that there are people in the room and not robots. Facilitators allow space for the people and not just the content to be part of the discussion. This requires a level of self-awareness and having looked at your own hot buttons and reactions. These three areas could be called your core skills. They are never fully formed and will continue to develop with experience. Once you feel you have enough of these three in place you can start to put yourself out there, offering your services as a facilitator, which means you need a contract and credibility.
Contract: This not a formal piece of paper but it is a tacit agreement or permission for you to manage the levers of content, process and feeling on behalf of the group. We need contracts with both the people you are facilitating for and the people in the room that you are working with. The contract supports clarity of purpose, roles and expectations. Credibility: This is not based on the number of PhDs or other qualifications you have but the degree to which people are willing to put anywhere between an hour to a few days of their time in your hands. Credibility comes from your core skills, when people feel you have these covered, they are willing to hand over the reins.
Then you are ready to begin working with the big four tasks of the facilitators.
Motivating: Is about keeping an eye on the pace of the day and the volume of output, so that people are not feeling over or underwhelmed. Ensuring the group is having the conversation they need to have (not the ones you want them to have) is central to be a motivating influence in the room. Linking: Is a micro skill that is about connecting the dots as the discussion unfolds through the day. How does the conversation in the moment relate to what other people have said, to the purpose of the day, to what is happening next? Linking supports groups to move from divergence to convergence? Structuring: Designing the process of the day to fit, the desired outcomes, available time, the space you have to work with and number and type of people in the room Supporting: The primary support facilitators offer other than their core skills, is the way they use process and their interpersonal skills to balance the power in the room and support people to participate in full.
Our facilitation skills course focuses on all of these foundational qualities. Our advanced facilitation skills course, takes the final step and begins to explore the outer circle. The moments when you need to step away from trying to control the process, trying to keep things on track and need to be able to rely on the most powerful tool in a facilitators tool bag…awareness. Awareness of the group, of how the way any given process is working and of how you are throughout it all. The reality is we do all of these things all of the time, and there is no place better to start developing your skills than to give it a go!
See more on the upcoming Facilitation Workshop with Joel Levin