Facilitation is an important skill for managers, but unfortunately so often it is done poorly. Facilitation is not training or lecturing or chairing a meeting, rather it is the process of making it easy for individuals to gain consensus, generate new ideas and solve problems. Managers who struggle with this may do so for a number of reasons: they may not have senior management commitment to the process, or they may simply not have the tools or skills. Below are a few suggestions for how to be an effective facilitator:
1. Choose a suitable venue and inform attendees.
Venues should be large enough for the group and their activities but also free from distractions. Participants should be informed of the location of the venue as well as the dress code, diet provision, and the contextual information or items that they need to know and bring. In some cases, venues should be contextual: for example, meetings over cuts should not take place in very expensive hotels.
2. Plan each session.
Sessions should begin with an agreement of a group aim, so everyone should be involved in introductions and defining the objectives and resources of the meeting. The aim should be stated positively, and as the facilitator you should make informed decisions and have the group take ownership of all the outcomes.
3. Establish an atmosphere of success.
The atmosphere should be optimistic. This is particularly important for when a group first meets due to the low trust and high anxiety that is probably present. Encourage the development of discussion and get ideas from the group out into the open. Ensure that the group listens to each other as well.
4. Make use of all your interpersonal skills.
Interpersonal skills include listening, paraphrasing, giving feedback and handling conflicts. Facilitators should listen for what is unsaid as well as said, and effective facilitators must be neutral and not manipulative.
5. Question masterfully.
In a series of probing questions, the first should check a participant’s comprehension of obscure language, whilst the second should check their actions. Questions asking for comparisons help to check vague language, and questions can be redirected back to the group if a member asks for your opinion. For example, “John asked what should be done about XYZ. Can anyone offer a suggestion?”
6. Have all the right tools.
A toolkit like the CIPD’s organisational development toolkit may be useful to encourage decision-making and successful discussion. Toolkits can include problem definition tools like flow charts and fishbone mind-mapping. The right tools should be selected to suit the group’s needs.
7. Manage the information.
Create a system for ongoing reporting, for example action plans with reviews of the outcomes. Follow up afterwards on what actions occurred, and the accountabilities and responsibilities.