Facilitation 101

When people come together in groups for what is assumed to be a common cause, it would seem intuitive that objectives, goals, and outcomes would be known. If you’ve ever spent any amount of time in meetings related to partnership and collaboration, you know better.

Facilitation—the art of helping a group move towards common goals—is a key element in the process of collaboration. While collaboration and partnering is often talked about as a desirable and necessary outcome for groups, collaboration doesn’t occur organically.

Individuals come to groups with agendas, limited information or information lacking context. Personalities also affect the group consensus-building process. Lastly, not everyone that pays lip service to collaboration knows what it means. Effective groups require leaving agendas and preconceived notions at the door.

Ensuring that this happens and that the process doesn’t get sidetracked or hijacked requires an experienced facilitator. This person helps guide and direct the group, not by supplying his/her own ideas but by tapping the synergy and bringing out the best elements of the cohort.

A good facilitator can be the difference between an organization remaining in stasis, or even crisis, and the same group moving forward with a clear plan with buy-in from all the participants at the table. Skilled facilitation helps avoid interpersonal, cultural and other potential landmines that can be detrimental to effective collaboration and achieving desire outcomes.

How does an effective facilitator benefit a group? Here are a few elements of effective facilitation:

  • Plans and designs the meeting parameters with the group
  • Helps the group forge a bond and common purpose
  • Clarifies desired outcomes, and the process for getting there
  • Sets ground rules
  • Creates an environment where everyone’s voice and ideas are heard and valued
  • Brings time-tested tools to the process and knows how to employ them

Effective facilitation requires neutrality. Because members of the group have a vested interest, bringing in an experienced facilitator from the outside can streamline consensus-building and ensure positive outcomes. Not recognizing this key role and planning for it results in frustration and failure.

There is a Socratic element to good facilitation. Good facilitators know what questions to ask. They also can help paraphrase and synthesize ideas.

Other elements of effective facilitation:

  • Keeps the group on task
  • Give and receive feedback to ensure facilitation is achieving desired goals
  • Tests assumptions
  • Collect ideas
  • Helps summarize the process

All of these elements have been part of my own experience working with groups ranging in size from 6 to 20. I have been an effective facilitator working with the following groups:

  • Educators
  • Nonprofit leaders
  • Community-based organizations
  • Workforce and economic development professionals
  • Business leaders

If your process moving towards collaboration and partnership hasn’t been effective, or hasn’t developed as quickly as originally planned, it might be time to look at professional facilitation in helping this to happen.

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Jim Baumer is a Maine-based writer who cares about people and the places that define them. He also is an experienced group leader and facilitator, with over a decade of experience helping groups come to consensus and building community partnerships. For more information, you contact him at the Jim Baumer Experience.

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