The role of a facilitator is to guide and structure productive conversations that enable a group to solve problems, make decisions, learn together, and achieve its objectives. Whether conducting in an in-person, virtual, or hybrid setting, good facilitators make their work look effortless. Yet, the basis of flawless delivery is on careful planning, preparation, and practice. How do you ensure the discussion flows well and participation is maximized? How do you get groups to develop workable, realistic solutions? What factors must you consider when running a virtual facilitation? The most essential skills, knowledge, and techniques for facilitators are summarized in our Facilitation Expert Reference Guide.
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In this guide, we share with you best practices for each stage in the facilitation process, covering topics such as how to provide a safe and productive space for sharing, how to keep the group on track, how to build consensus, how to manage dysfunction, and how to balance objectivity. The foundations covered in this eBook are universal to both in-person and virtual facilitations, but we do provide some additional advice for each setting. While mastering the art of facilitation takes time and lots of practice, we hope the practical tips in this guide extend your knowledge and give you the tools you need to effectively and confidently facilitate your next workshop or meeting. Take a look at highlights from the guide below or download our eBook for greater detail.
Pre-Meeting Best Practices
With any facilitation, preparation is key to success. The goal of doing pre-work is to stay ahead of the conversation so that you, as a facilitator, can be present in the moment and confident in knowing the next three steps. As you prepare for your facilitation, be sure to address the following concepts:
Know the audience
Know the leadership
Know the facts
Know your team
Know your scenarios
Know your questions
In-Meeting Best Practices
When the day of the facilitation arrives, create a foundation for working together at the start of the session. These start-up processes and structures set the session’s tone and create a safe environment that encourages open and respectful communication. Such actions include:
Establishing ground rules
Reviewing the agenda and confirming meeting objectives
As the meeting progresses, employ a range of tools and techniques to support everyone to do their best thinking. To help facilitate discussion:
Reinforce the safe space
Use inclusive language
Feel the energy and flow
Practice compassionate detachment
Use your IQ, EQ, & CQ
Accommodate different learning styles
Follow-Up Best Practices
Conducting a facilitation is exhausting. But you have to carry that energy from the facilitation to the follow-up. When it comes to this last step, be sure to:
Schedule time in advance
Identify next steps
Send thank-you notes
Continue the conversation
Tips for Engaging Difficult Participants
Reluctant and distracting participants - There are several types of “difficult behaviors” that can occur in group situations. As a facilitator, learning how to effectively and compassionately address these challenges can help the group in reaching its goals. Key points to remember is to give reluctant participants the time and space to engage at their own convenience. With distracting participants, take back ownership of the conversation but in a way that allows them to remain whole.
Tips for Moving Toward Goals and/or Consensus
Finding common ground - As a facilitator, it is your job to help the group find common ground among varying opinions. Part of this involves identifying and addressing disagreements that may prevent the group from reaching its goals. Once you have a better understanding of the cause of the disagreement, you can take steps to help the group resolve it.
Call the question and keep it moving forward - Facilitators also have to keep conversations productive. Non-verbal aids can help. Straw polls give you a sense of the order and allow you to move forward from a sticking point of 1-2 vocal minority detractors. Ranking (e.g. 1-10 or thumbs up/thumbs down) also provides a good opportunity to pivot a conversation, summarize current thinking, and chart a path forward.
Synthesize and Summarize - Sometimes several different conversation themes emerge simultaneously in a meeting. As you listen to unorganized thoughts, try to connect the ideas to one another and to the goals of the meeting, and reflect these ideas back to the audience in a way that makes sense.
Tips for Time Management
Be realistic and flexible - One of the facilitator’s responsibilities is to make sure the group stays on track. This is managed at both the planning stage and the execution stage. When preparing for the facilitation, set a realistic plan of how you are going to spend your time and be sure to build flexibility into the agenda, including strategically placed breaks. When you’re executing the facilitation, be firm with the goals and agenda of the session but also adaptable to emerging energy/conversations.
Tips for Balancing Objectivity
Devil’s Advocate? - In addition to being a process expert, a good facilitator will also have some degree of knowledge and expertise to pull from to help the group reach its goals. However, this degree of expertise can make it difficult to remain completely objective, especially if the group is about to settle on a decision or solution that you know is bad. If there are doubts in your mind, take on a devil’s advocate role and lead the group down a series of questions that may help them see why their strategy won’t work.
Considerations for Virtual Facilitations
Hosting a virtual facilitation offers some unique advantages, but there are also some challenges to consider, such as:
Evaluating audience reactions when cameras are turned off;
Keeping the audience engaged while competing with distractions at home; and
Addressing technology barriers.
The challenges that you encounter during a virtual facilitation doesn’t mean that the facilitation can’t be effective; you just have to go in to the facilitation understanding it might require more energy, more strategies to increase engagement, and more technological coaching.
Knowing how to plan and facilitate an effective meeting is a highly valuable skill. There is a growing need for increased facilitation skills as decision processes strive to become more collaborative, participative, synergistic, and unifying. Becoming a skilled meeting facilitator doesn’t happen overnight — it takes lots of patience, continual learning, confidence, and practice. As you explore your role as a facilitator, insights from our Facilitation Expert Reference Guide can be used to help develop and expand your facilitation skills, increase engagement, and make your meetings more productive.
Download the Meeting Facilitation eBook below:
Meeting facilitation through B|G will develop your leaders, create strategy, foster culture, and build community. Learn more here.
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