Anyone Can—and Everyone Should—Make Facilitative Contributions

Many people believe facilitation is a role that only designated individuals can play in meetings or planning sessions. But just as leadership is more about how you behave than what your title is, so is facilitation about the contributions you make regardless of your role.

Break down the word facilitation and you find two components: facile, which means easy, and ation or actions. So simply put, facilitation is defined as actions that make things easier. So what is facilitation trying to make easier? Possibilities include:

  • Individuals working together more effectively
  • Diverse perspectives being more thoroughly explored
  • Individuals feeling comfortable contributing and speaking up
  • Groups efficiently accomplishing more and in less time
  • Creative thinking and innovative solutions emerging
  • Individuals exercising greater ownership over discussions and accountability for decisions reached

Just because we sometimes have individuals designated as facilitators, it doesn’t mean everyone else can abdicate the responsibility they have for the group to function well. And if you are in a formal position of leadership, you can draw on the values, beliefs, and techniques of facilitators to more effectively engage those you are leading in the work that needs to be done. These include:

  • Using active listening skills, including paraphrasing, summarizing, reflecting, and questioning
  • Encouraging and generating participative discussion in groups
  • Stimulating creative thinking through brainstorming/other idea-generation processes
  • Ensuring strategic consideration of alternatives and informed decision making of appropriate choices
  • Managing contrasting perspectives that might result in conflict among members of a group
  • Intervening with individuals and groups without taking total control of the situation
  • Designing meeting processes to accomplish a wide range of goals and objectives
  • Drawing out others’ opinions in an objective and nonjudgmental manner
  • Supporting teams in various stages of group development
  • Helping individuals and groups reflect on their experiences and capture relevant learning
  • Leading/designing inclusive group processes that honor different learning styles
  • Help shape more powerful and strategic questions for exploration

As Roger Schwarz says in his book, The Skilled Facilitator, “Being a facilitative leader means changing how you think in order to change the consequences you help create.” So think about the groups and teams that you are a part of, and ask yourself these questions: (1) What are the consequences you want to help create? (2) What would be required for that to occur in each group? (3)What shifts in your thinking might help you contribute more effectively to the group?

Interested in learning more? Check out my blog and my six favorite facilitation resources.

Jeffrey Cufaude is CEO of Idea Architects  

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