You’ve already got to know how people learn, what is helpful and what is disturbing in this process, how to develop and conduct a concise training or meeting on the given subject. Now it is time to look at the tasks of a person who conducts a meeting – tasks of a facilitator, and techniques, which he / she uses in this process.
Facilitation – what does it mean?
To facilitate means to mutually stimulate the behavior of members of the group – e.g. people participating in a meeting or training. The facilitator is a person who observes and stimulates such behavior and supports the group in reaching goals. He /she is therefore responsible for the course of the meeting, he /she leads the group and follows it at the same time. What is important – the facilitator remains impartial to the people in the group and opinions which they share.
Features of a good facilitator
- neutrality and impartiality (regarding people and content);
- ability to listen to others;
- ability to ask the right questions at the right time;
- ensuring a balance between the objectives, process and people;
- acceptance of all participants;
- creating favorable and open atmosphere;
- ability to exploit the potential of all participants;
- taking care of the relationship between people;
- be open to problems.
How to start?
If facilitation seems something difficult and complicated after reading this brief introduction – we have good news for you! Probably there are many facilitator’s tasks that you already can perform, even if you are not aware of these. Sometimes it is enough to be curious of people, friendly and being mindful of what they say and what they need. This is a very significant potential that will help you develop facilitating competencies. In a moment we’ll show you what else is important and worth of your attention, and we will share some tips and tricks regarding facilitation techniques.
Triangle of facilitation
When you facilitate a training or meeting, be sure to pay attention to three aspects: the purpose of the meeting, the process and the individual participants.
1. Purpose of your meeting / training
Your task is to achieve the goal of a meeting.
First of all, be sure that all participants are aware of the goal of the meeting or training. Tell them about it before the meeting starts (e.g. you can include information about the goal of the meeting in the invitation). Recall the goal when the meeting starts (to learn more look at the page…). But that’s not everything. It may happen that although the goal was clearly defined at the very beginning, during the meeting the participants diverge from the topic and start discussion on different subjects. In such situations, bring the meeting back on track – recall the purpose, organize discussion, focus the energy and participants’ ideas on topics that lead all of you to achieve the goal. If necessary – suggest postponing additional (even essential) topics or issues and addressing them at another meeting or training. At the same time, show how much has already been done and what is the current stage of work. As a result, people will see the sense of working together and at the end of the meeting they will be pleased that they were able to accomplish the task.
Process means everything what happens between people during your meeting and training.
Imagine for a moment an effective meeting or training, where the goal has been achieved accordingly to the plan, but… all the time there was a tense atmosphere, some people spoke out frequently, others hardly expressed their opinions, two participants were malicious and quarreled with each other, someone constantly disturbed and criticized other people… And although it worked out (barely) and the goal was achieved, the participants probably won’t have nice memories of this training and next time they will avoid meetings which you organize. So, what should be done to avoid such situations?
A good facilitator not only pay close attention to achieving the goal, but carefully observes and reacts to what happens between the participants. First of all, a facilitator cares about the participants’ sense of security and builds trust – both to himself (as a facilitator), as well as to other people taking part in a meeting. At the beginning, he / she allows participants to get to know each other, clearly shows the purpose and subject of training, inquiries about the expectations, sets the rules of work together with a group. Then, a facilitator use those techniques of a group work, which enhance mutual trust and relationships between participants. He / she invites people to talk in pairs or work in subgroups. When he / she notices the readiness of participants, he /she invites them to speak in front of the group. The facilitator skillfully mobilizes (not forces!) each person to speak, he /she makes use of integration exercises and icebreakers (to learn more look at the page… ). All the time, he / she carefully observes the participants and interactions that occur between them, and – if necessary – intervenes. E.g. if too many people speak at the same time – the facilitator gives the floor to individual participants. If there’s a person with very distinct opinions, who tries to impose them on others – facilitator checks others opinions and encourage all participants to express them. When a participant cannot clearly express his/her thoughts or opinions – a facilitator paraphrases his / her statement. And, of course, the facilitator asks as many open questions as possible (open questions allows to express opinions freely).
Leading the training you need to look at the participants not only as a collective (group), but also to recognize the individuals.
This time recall an anthill. Usually we look at it from a distance, so as a result we see a mass of small points that are constantly moving. We do not notice individual ants, even though we need just a moment of concentration and mindfulness to realize that each of them is going in its own direction. The same situation can happen during the training – we can focus on the relationships between people and on the group so much, that we can miss the details regarding individuals. One may be tired. Other impatient, frozen or dissatisfied. Examples can be multiplied here.
Obviously the good news is that after a certain period of time such individual needs or behaviors will influence the relationships between people and it will be easier to be noticed (e.g. someone who feels cold, will finally tell about this outloud; the dissatisfied person will criticize your statement or another participant of the training). The trick, however, is to notice it before it happens and – as a result – react adequately to the situation (e.g. it’s better to ask if there’s a need of turning off the air condition in the room, or to ask if there’s something that should be explained more precisely). A careful observation of individuals and paying attention not only to what they say – but also to their body language, will be extremely helpful here. The way we sit on a chair, the expression of our face or our gestures – it tells really a lot about us. And what is important – usually it tells the truth, because body language is extremely difficult to control. So keep in mind – body language can become your ally!
Remember, each of the aspects mentioned above are equally important. If only you – as a facilitator – pay close (and preferably equal) attention to all of them, the meeting or training will be successful.
Your positive attitude to the training and work with a group, your energy, commitment, and flexibility – all of them can be helpful. Think about the common work of the group like about an interesting trip or excursion. When you (as a facilitator) know the destination and you are aware of what can happen along the way. But at the same time, the participants are those who see quite new and sometimes surprising things during this trip. It also happens that they leave the path you determined and – if only it does not move you away of the goal – you can follow them with curiosity!
You already know the task of facilitator – for a while you will learn about facilitation techniques that will help you conduct a meeting or training. Each of them will be useful, however you’ll use them with different frequencies. Remember, your choice of techniques will depend primarily on the needs of the group.
1. Asking questions
Questions are the most important tool in the hands of the facilitator. They allow you to collect information, help in mutual understanding, enable searching for solutions.
When do we ask questions?
At each stage of the work group.
For what purpose?
- To get information.
- To clarify the doubts and misunderstandings.
- To encourage participants to seek solutions.
- To analyze possible explanations or suggested solutions.
Ask questions adjusted for a particular purpose. Use primarily open-ended questions – starting with the words: what? who? for what? when? why? how? Asking open-ended questions can be compared with fishing with nets – when people try to catch as many different fishes as possible. In other words – in this way you collect a lot of information. You also make participants to think and dig dipper, and you encourage them to collaborate.
Much less – usually in a situation where you need precise information or you want to end a thread – use closed-ended questions. Those which begin with the word “if” and lead to the “yes”, “no” or “do not know” answer. In this case, we can also use the metaphor of fishing – but this time you fish using rods. In this way you try to catch just one fish – to get a very precise answer to your specific question.
Paraphrase is a repetition of what we understood from the speech of another person. It should not summarize the problem or include the interpretation. It should contain only what was said. When you use the paraphrase, do not judge and do not value statements you’ve already heard.
When we use paraphrase?
- To show you are listening, you are careful and concentrate on the speech of the participant.
- To check how well you understand his /her intentions (if you understood otherwise, the participant has the opportunity to clearly present his idea).
- To organize the conversation and focus attention on the discussed issues.
- To underline the interest and understanding of the participant and to encourage him to continue the speech.
- To make his speech more understandable for the group.
Repeat in your own words what you understood from the participant. Say for example: If I understand correctly …, Having said that… you mean…, I understand that you’re asking about the…
Use paraphrase when you do not fully understand the participant’s statement and are not sure about his intentions. Use it also when you are not certain if everyone in a group heard or understood the participant.
Confirming is to show that you are listening with interest and want the participant to continue his speech.
When we use the confirmation?
- At the beginning of the meeting.
- When the previously reticent participant spoke.
For what purpose?
- To encourage less active participant for greater involvement.
- To show your interest.
Express your interest by non-verbal signals: nodding head, tilting in the direction of the speaker, eye contact, smiling. Take care also about the verbal confirmation – both short (oh, yes – yes, I understand) and more complex (Do you want to say something more?) will work here.
Balancing, is to encourage people who haven’t said anything yet or spoke a little to speak (to express their opinions, ideas). Using this technique, you are giving a clear signal that all views in the group are important and everyone has the right to express opinion.
When we use the balancing?
- At the beginning when not everyone feels safe.
- Whenever the discussion is dominated by a small group of people.
Say: We’ve already known the opinions of two people. Who will propose a different way of looking at this matter? What others think about what you’ve just said Peter? We have listened to the arguments of Anna and Dominic, who has a different point of view?
5. Giving voice
Giving voice is a procedure that helps to organize the discussion.
When we give voice?
When there is chaos in a group and everyone speaks at the same time.
Step 1: Please, all of the people who want to speak, raise your hands.
Step 2: I see that four people want to speak: Anna, Lucy, George and Adam. You will speak in this order. The first – Anna, the second – Lucy and so on.
Step 3: (When Anna finishes) Lucy, I invite you to speak …
Step 4: (When the last person has finished) Does anyone else want to add anything?
Summarizing means to present again the most important issues, thoughts, ideas emotions that appeared at the particular stage of the work of the group.
When you summarize?
- At the end of a particular stage of the work of the the group.
- At the end of the work of the group.
For what purpose?
- To collect the most important facts and confirm their understanding.
- To show what progress has been achieved and encourage further efforts.
- To ensure that all matters in that part of the meeting have been discussed and covered, and we can move on to the next.
Introduce the most essential issues that have been raised. Verify if you told about every important matters. For example: It seems to me, that the basic thoughts that have been expressed, are …. I think that the most important issues that have been raised until now are … Have I forgotten about anything?