This is the first in a series of post on facilitation - what makes a great facilitator and what are the necessary skills.
If this sounds familiar, chances are you had a great facilitator running the session to help reach those conclusions.
Here are some great facilitator skills that should be present, in my humble opinion:
These skills are not exclusive to a manager, anyone can have these skills and while some may occur naturally, they can be learnt. Let's go a little deeper into some of these skills...
A. Create Collaborative Client Relationships B. Plan Appropriate Group Processes C. Create and Sustain a Participatory Environment D. Guide Group to Appropriate and Useful Outcomes E. Build and Maintain Professional Knowledge F. Model Positive Professional Attitude
They go on and describe in more detail each competency however at a more personal level, these are the skills we think a facilitator should have.
To show the importance and difference good listening skills can bring to a workplace, I sometimes do the exercise were 2 people sit facing each other. During one minute, one of them talks about a topic they feel passionate about (football, politics, their best holiday ever etc) while the other person does everything possible to show no interest at all in what is being said. After that, we ask the person who is listening to change and show that they are really listening. After that they change roles and discuss the differences. It's amazing the difference noticed for both of the people.
Mind Tools provide a good post about Active listening and how you can improve here.
Having listened to the person, it's easy to ask something related, or probe to allow them to elaborate more about the topic. This can be done by using open questions that aren't answered by a simple "Yes/No" response.
Don't get me wrong, a great facilitator needs to know when to move people along, stop certain people for speaking too much and "manage" the group. But it's important to allow people to communicate their thoughts, especially the more introverted people who may not feel as comfortable speaking in a group situation.
The facilitator should be able to recognise who feels more comfortable and who doesn't, using different ways of getting the opinion from these people. This may mean they need more prompting, discuss the topic in a smaller group or simply write the idea down on a post-it and then read out later.
This person failed to read the group. A great facilitator skill is to read the group and be able to think on their feet. As in the Deming PDCA cycle, the facilitator needs to check how the session is going and act accordingly. If the group is not responding as planned, another way should be tried, maybe work in smaller groups, take a break or change the activity.
focus on the process and remember the objective of the sessionDon't get bogged down in details or looking for an outcome that you want. Allow the process to flow and that means being impartial to the views and the people present. Treat everyone with the same high level of respect and be neutral. You are there to help a group reach an outcome, help everyone to express their opinion and avoid group thinking.
This can be particularly prevalent in meetings which don't have clear agendas or expected outcomes. The facilitator of the meeting should make it his/her responsibility to ensure that the meeting has an objective and inform everyone of what is expected by the end of the session.
This also means keeping an eye on the time or ideally having another person do that and keep the facilitator informed. Ensure that the people involved are aware of time pressures and help them by guiding them towards making a decision or reaching an agreement before the end of the session.
In following posts, I'll include ways of improving on these skills and where they can be honed.
Are there any other skills that should really be included in this list?