The Practice of Facilitation: Managing Group Process and Solving Problems

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Years ago, when I founded Sassy Facilitation, I tried to answer that question by writing a pamphlet titled "What is Facilitation? And it did the job pretty well, so I moved on to creating other tools. However, I realized recently that its been a while 8 years? So as I got inspired to roll up my sleeves, dig around in the depths of my Toolbox, and update my tools, it seemed pretty obvious where to start. I spent over a month digging around in my archives which include notes from every facilitation or dialog training I've participated in, countless scholarly and industry articles, and over a dozen text-books on Facilitation and pulling together the key insights from across these resources.

The result is a new and improved eight page toolkit and primer for Facilitators of all skill levels to help improve your Facilitation Excellence. I'm gonna lay out the tool in detail here, and you can download the complete tool in PDF form here or from my Toolbox! Communication and decision making are the lifeblood of any group endeavor — from routine operational meetings to times of change and challenge. The structures and practices of facilitation cultivate the buy-in of your participants — it enhances both the quality of the outcomes and the satisfaction of the folks involved, creating a virtuous cycle that generates group capacity to effectively solve problems and meet challenges.

It actively solicits and harnesses the leadership skills and unique potential of all members.

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This toolkit provides guidance for practitioners at all skill levels to improve their facilitation excellence. The core duties of a facilitator are to encourage full participation, promote mutual understanding, foster inclusive solutions, and cultivate shared responsibility , which results in stronger individuals, groups and agreements. They do this by gathering group process expertise, critical self-reflection skills, and a deep bag of tricks to help guide any group no matter how diverse or divergent toward productive communication.

This means they are often occupying two or more roles in a process.

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Here are a few commonly held dual roles, and what dynamics you will need to juggle:. Do empower your group with knowledge and the right to hold you accountable. Do require the group to be robust and duly diligent in their decision making. Do learn from your mistakes, and model that learning for the group. Do know your own triggers and reactions, and have tools for self-reflection and correction on tap.

Do model constructive feedback and accountability. Do protect yourself from taking on their problems. Do encourage the group to take responsibility for itself. Do assist the group in planning achievable goals and a feasible process. Do know when to say No. Ask yourself: Will it cause harm?

What is my capacity? Does it compromise my values? Is neutrality an issue?

What happened during the activity? State the facts, identify behaviors, refrain from opinions and judgments, but note all relevant exchanges.

Find How Managers Can More Effectively Use Their Facilitation Skills

So what are you going to do about it? Did the behaviors serve you or the group? What did you learn from your individual or collective success or failure? What was your individual role in the process, and was it satisfactory? What can be different next time?

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    How will you measure success? How do you create permanent, positive change? Being perceived as content and outcome neutral is a key source of your power to serve the group — when juggling multiple roles, a large amount of what you are managing is your actual and perceived neutrality. As facilitator, you hold discretionary power over the process — which means that when shit hits the fan, you are the first responder.

    While you should be guided by the principles of servant leadership when deciding when and how to take action, the power to decide is ultimately yours — and the more wisely you wield it, the more you will empower your group to make wise decisions. This section provides basic guidelines on intervening in process, with specific solutions to common facilitation troubles. Sassy always has time for cooperative communication conundrums. And sometimes she answers them in this blog!

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    I take a contented sip and listen to them ask the age old question, asked a thousand times before. I pause, because, innocuous and common as this question is, in my case the answer is a bit No talking. We have to coordinate silently to organize our bodies into some commonly envisioned representation of a toaster. Hey folks, welcome back to my soap box! Before we go any further, I'd like to do something with y'all - its something I do with anyone I might ever want to get real with. Its a magic spell that - when invoked - transports us straight through the land of small talk into the soul-and-world-transforming land of Real Talk.

    What Is Facilitation?

    Self-explanatory as this tool sounds to me , the politics and mechanics of the words "Safe Space" mean a wide range of things to a wider range of people. So, since my rules are the ones we will be obeying here on this blog, let me break down my version of what this means for you.

    I've been a communication enthusiast for a very long time. All the myriad ways we humans 'talk' to each other holds endless fascination for me. So when I started my consultancy, Sassy Facilitation, it wasn't just to support a movement and model I believe in, or to have the dubious benefits of being my own boss -- it was also to make a profession out of a proclivity. Facilitation Excellence One of the most frequent questions I get when I tell folks about my work is "What does a Facilitator do exactly? Facilitation Excellence A toolkit and primer for facilitators of all skill levels Communication and decision making are the lifeblood of any group endeavor — from routine operational meetings to times of change and challenge.

    Process Advocate upholding a process which cultivates full group participation Wield the authority delegated to you by the group in the service of the participants, the group, and its goals. When people are committed to a decision, they are likely to make sure that the decision is implemented effectively. It is the facilitator's role to help the group design its meetings in a way that is consistent with the core values of facilitation.

    One of the key ways a facilitator does this is by helping groups establish ground rules for an effective process. The idea is that no individual is permitted to dominate a discussion or hold special privilege. There are generally three kinds of ground rules. The first kind defines the behavior of participants; for example, "individuals will treat each other with respect. Facilitators must have a variety of skills and techniques to be effective.

    PDF The Practice of Facilitation: Managing Group Process and Solving Problems

    Strong verbal and analytical skills are essential. Facilitators must know what questions to ask, when to ask them, and how questions should be structured to get good answers without defensiveness. Facilitators must know how to probe for more information when the initial answers are not sufficient. They must also know how to rephrase or " reframe " statements to enhance understanding, and to highlight areas of agreement and disagreement as they develop. Other skills include redirecting questions and comments, giving positive reinforcement, encouraging contrasting views, including quieter members of the group, and dealing with domineering or hostile participants.

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    Nonverbal techniques include things such as eye contact, attentiveness, facial expressions, body language, enthusiasm, and maintaining a positive outlook. A facilitator must also develop the ability to read and analyze group dynamics on the spot in order to guide the group in a productive way. There are also various recording techniques facilitators may employ, such as the use of large newsprint notepads.

    Taking notes everyone can see during meetings helps establish a common framework of understanding among the group and prevents people from repeating points. In addition to basic note taking, facilitators use a variety of other visual methods that help generate, organize, and evaluate data and ideas. Again, the main idea behind visual tools is that they allow material to be displayed so all members of a group can see and work with the same information at the same time.

    Facilitation is important because meetings of large groups of people can be very hard to organize as well as to control when they are in progress.