Published on 07 May 2019.
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Facilitation Skills 101

In this article I cover (i) what the role of a facilitator is, (ii) how to prepare for a session where you are facilitating, (iii) what to do during the session and (iv) what to do after the session.

Read on to find out why you need the scoop on a group, what a POWER start is, and why having a plant in the room can really help you out.

A facilitator is a person whose role is to help a group of people reach a pre-specified outcome. #

Facilitators don’t run a session. Training courses, company status updates, and other meetings which have a one-directional flow of information don’t need facilitators.

Instead, they facilitate, helping the meeting progress towards a specific outcome.

This can be a challenge for some people as it involves relinquishing control. The facilitator is not in control; the team are in control. The agenda, the process and the outcome are all ‘owned’ by the team, not by the facilitator. The facilitator needs to be okay with not contributing content, but instead being there to guide the team to the pre-defined outcome.

Often this outcome is about finding a solution to a specific problem. E.g., at the end of this meeting, we need to have found out how to grow by 10% over the next quarter. But, it can also be a more concrete deliverable. E.g., at the end of this meeting, we need to have a design system for our new branding. The outcome or deliverable of the session should be defined upfront.

Prepare for a session by: interviewing the key sponsor, researching the context, planning the session and communicating with participants. #

There are four things you need to do when preparing to facilitate a session.

Firstly, you need to identify and interview the key sponsor. This may be a CEO, a project lead, or similar. Ask them what the purpose of the session is, if they have suggestions for how the session should be approached, and what they expect the outcome to be.

You need to find out what role they are playing in the session. A manager sitting in on a meeting can fundamentally change the dynamic of the meeting, so might not be appropriate, depending on what your outcome needs to be.

You can also take this opportunity to ask them for the scoop on the group. Are any of the personalities difficult to manage? Too loud, too shy, too controlling? Knowing this in advance will help you prepare.

Secondly, you need to figure out the context of the session. What do you need to know about the company culture? What do you need to know about the health of the business? What about the environment? And any current events that might be relevant?

Thirdly, you need to actually design the session. Work out the agenda if you’re in charge of deciding it. Identify any tools or supplies you’ll need. Estimate the timing of each item on the agenda. If possible, visit the room beforehand, to check all the tech works. Drawing out the layout of the room can also help to visualise the space you’ll have available. Make sure the room you choose meets the accessibility requirements of the participants who’ll be attending.

Lastly, communicate with the participants beforehand. Send out the agenda, but be wary of sending out a strict time schedule, as having some flexibility can be beneficial if you need to change things around. Send out logistics regarding location and timing, and any accessibility information about the room you are in.

During the session: kick off with a POWER start, keep the group engaged, and if necessary, record what happens. #

The session should be an open and comfortable environment. One way to get everyone in the right mindset is to use a POWER start.

A POWER start involves:

  • PO: Outline the purpose and objectives of the session
  • W: Make sure everyone knows what’s in it for me
  • E: Build the energy in the room so everyone’s feel upbeat, and motivated (music and icebreakers help with this)
  • R: Set the rules (e.g., don’t continiously text on your pocket phone, don’t talk over others, figure out who has final say on decision-making)

If you’ve got a tough crowd, you can pick a plant to be on your side. Approach someone before the session starts, and ask them to be super enthusiastic and upbeat. They’ll be the first to ask questions, offer suggestions, join in with the icebreaker.

Photo of houseplant
Not this kind of plant! Although plants are sick and good for air quality so you should also have some in the room if possible!

Make sure to project when speaking and to start on time. If there are latecomers, check with the rest of the group whether they want to wait for them or start without them.

To keep the group engaged you can use a variety of interactive activities. Having ice-breakers, getting everyone out of their seats to throw out ideas on post-its, or voting with a service like Kahoot will keep people interested and help the group reach their outcome.

Make sure to record the decisions and output of the session if required. (This is something to check with the sponsor!) If you aren’t able to record while also facilitating, you can delegate and designate one person as recorder.

After the session, communicate with the group. #

Sometime after the session, you should send an email to the group with a reminder of what was accomplished. For example, if flipcharts were used to record the outcome, you can send out photographs of them. You can also use this opportunity to send out self-reflection questions to the participants or a feedback questionnaire.

You should have a debrief with the key sponsor about what was accomplished and if the outcome was reached.

Lastly, and most importantly, you should transfer accountability. Now that the session is over, who is going to continue with the project and facilitate future sessions? Make sure all of the pariticpants know who that person is.

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