Mujtaba Mirza is an Account Coordinator at Managing Matters Inc., the association management company for the International Association of Facilitators. IAF works to grow the community of practice for all who facilitate, establish internationally accepted professional standards, build credibility and promote the value of facilitation worldwide. Find out more about facilitation by visiting www.iaf-world.org.
The definition of the word facilitate is “to make easy” or “ease a process.” What a facilitator does is plan, guide and manage a group to ensure that the group’s objectives are met effectively, with structure, clear thinking, good participation and buy-in from everyone present. The key responsibility here is to create appropriate processes and a safe environment in which it can flourish, and so help the group reach a successful decision, solution or conclusion.
Before a facilitator designs the group process, he or she meets with the client sponsor (or group leader) and other key participants to understand their needs, desired outcomes, the participants and the session logistics. A facilitator then will design and plan the group process, and select the tools that best help the group move toward that outcome as set out during the client consultation, including what the final product may look like and participation opportunities; perspectives are heard to build shared understanding to optimize outcomes that can be supported by all. The facilitator also will record the action items and decisions so they can be properly dealt with afterwards. A good facilitator will help group members take ownership and accountability for themselves.
Good facilitators always include some of these basic components for all meetings:
There is a library of diverse methods and techniques in the international facilitation community. An experienced acilitator knows when and how to employ the right one, suited for the purpose and the participants.
These myths illustrate what a facilitator does not do:
Myth 1: Facilitation is another name for training. The most common misconception about facilitation is using the term interchangeably with training. Training is intended to transfer knowledge and skills, so a participant can perform a specific task competently. On the other hand, facilitation aims to use the knowledge, ideas, wisdom and experience of the participants in the room to help the participants perform tasks collectively or helping them achieve certain identified and agreed-to outcomes.
Myth 2: Facilitation is getting inundated with a whirlwind of ideas. It is not enough just to identify and collect ideas by brainstorming; a group will feel dissatisfied if left in this “groan zone” with an enormous amount of ideas or data without knowing what to do with them. An effective facilitator will help the group make sense of all the ideas, to bring the ideation process to some closure, to converge them to some meaningful purpose and/or product.
Myth 3: Facilitation is a new buzz word. Facilitation has been around since the early 1980s, with roots that go back at least as far as Alex F. Osborn’s work on creative problem-solving in the late 1930s. Edgar Schein’s series of books on Process Consultation (1969) is often considered the resource that popularized the concept of facilitation.
Myth 4: Facilitation is tricks and gimmicks. A facilitator’s job is to help a group achieve the outcome required in consultation with the group leader, and then deliver it. As part of the process, appropriate techniques and methods are designed and used to generate ideas, encourage discussion, shift perspectives and reach decisions that all participants in the group can support. A professional facilitator will select a method that is purposeful and meaningful in achieving a desired result.
Myth 5: Facilitation is “touchy-feely” like group therapy. In a well-designed meeting, participants feel engaged, involved and empowered in their work. When a group learns how to work through challenges, disagreements and diverse perspectives together, it leads to a stronger, higher performing team. It is more likely to have continued support in implementing the decisions made from a session in which participants were involved in making those decisions. A group may ‘feel’ better after a well-facilitated session, but that is because the group leaves the session after having contributed to the next steps or priorities.
Myth 6: Facilitators are only involved in what happens in the meeting. Conducting a good meeting is only part of the facilitation process. A facilitator’s job starts well before the meeting. The bulk of the work includes scoping methods, such as consulting with the group leader in advance of the meeting, working with the group leader to design (or tailor) the session outputs, designing the meeting processes, preparing materials and planning appropriate interactivities to be used during the meeting. Facilitators often are asked to document the results of the session or prepare summary reports after the meetings are concluded.
Here are six reasons why meeting planners should use facilitators: