What is facilitation?

What is facilitation?

This is part 2 of 10 in the guide Facilitating Meetings.

What the dictionary says:

Facilitation Fa-sill-i-tay-shun, noun. making easy, the act of assisting or making easier the progress or improvement of something.

Facilitation is about helping the group to have an efficient and inclusive meeting. It combines a series of roles and tasks. These are often embodied in one person – the facilitator – but we encourage groups to think in terms of shared facilitation, with everyone sharing the responsibility for ensuring a meeting is well run, productive and participative.

Facilitation tasks include:

  • Helping the group decide on a structure and process for the meeting and keeping to it;
  • Keeping the meeting focussed on one item at a time until decisions are reached;
  • Regulating the flow of discussion – drawing out quiet people, or those with the most relevant expertise, and limiting those who tend to do a lot of the talking;
  • Clarifying and summarising points, testing for consensus and formalising decisions;
  • Helping the group deal with conflicts;
  • Keeping the meeting to time;
  • Ensuring that a written record is made of any action points and decisions agreed at the meeting.

To ensure that the group is using the most effective means of working through topics the facilitator might introduce tools such as idea-storming, go-rounds or small group discussions.

Learn to facilitate

group of people in a circle with a facilitatorThe role of a facilitator can be learnt by everyone. Use your own experience of meetings and observe other facilitators. Learn from mistakes, from bad meetings as well as good ones. If the role of facilitator is rotated amongst group members, people can develop these skills. It is well worth conducting training, aside from normal meeting times, to practice facilitation skills. These skills are not only useful in group meetings but also in informal settings, at work and at home.

Facilitation or chairing?

Superficially a facilitator fills a role similar to that of the traditional chairperson. There are however important differences:

  • a facilitator never “directs” the group without its consent;
  • at no time does the facilitator make decisions for the group or take on functions which are the responsibility of the group as a whole;
  • a good facilitator stays neutral and helps the members of the meeting be aware that it is their business that’s being conducted. The success of the meeting is the mutual responsibility of the whole group. The facilitator needs to be aware of this and always get the group’s agreement before using processes or tools.

Who should facilitate?

The role of facilitator can be learnt by everyone – use your own experience of meetings and observe other facilitators. Learn from mistakes, from bad meetings as well as good ones. If the role of facilitator is rotated amongst group members, people can develop these skills. It is well worth running some training, aside from normal meeting times, to practice facilitation skills. These skills are not only useful in group meetings but also in informal settings, at work and at home.

Be aware that people’s behaviour in groups is influenced by individual needs and past positive and negative experiences in groups. Try to spot your own negative behaviour patterns and work on identifying your own and other people’s needs.

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