What facilitation is? That was the question addressed in a morning seminar by Grape People. The company specializes in facilitating trainings and workshops and offer consultancy services related to these things.
The mission of Grape People is to get organizations to facilitate themselves. The process is quite simple, and can be applied to any group situation, where participation and involvement is desired. Therefore by learning a few basic principles anyone can easily become a facilitator.
How to facilitate?
Miikka from Grape People defined facilitation as combining the knowledge of a certain group. It’s about bringing this knowledge to the surface, making it visible and grouping it to gain understanding and new solutions. Sounds simple, right? The aim is usually to make sense of a problem, an issue or a topic, with hopes of finding solutions or new ideas in the end.
The key elements of any facilitated gathering are clarifying the issue and/or goals, creating the solutions and summarizing the action points and what will happen after the workshop or meeting. By keeping this simple structure as a backbone to a discussion, the facilitator is able to ease the thinking process as the participants are concentrating on one piece of the puzzle at a time. Without a structure it is easy to jump directly to e.g. thinking about solutions even before clearly defining the problem.
- Get the participants talking within the first 30 minutes or they don’t open their mouth at all.
- The solutions and answers are created together in the group and are not brought in by the facilitator.
- Most problems that occur during group gatherings are related to the process. By structuring the gatherings and planning the meetings and workshops these can be reduced.
- The ownership of the created ideas should remain with the participants. Therefore it should not be the facilitator’s task to summarize!
The role of a facilitator
I’m sure that many people get a bit confused if they are asked to facilitate a discussion. Where to start and how to get the people to participate? How to make sure that the end result meets the expectations? What to do if someone dominates the situation or the discussions start drifting away from the topic?
The facilitator is of course responsible for overcoming these hurdles. Therefore careful planning is crucial. However, as anything can happen when people are grouped together, even a good plan can fail. Only by practicing these situations you can get better at planning, reworking the plans as you go and engaging the people in your group!
The main role of the facilitator is to be somewhere between a specialist and a coach. He or she doesn’t need to know the topic, but as we discussed within the group, knowing at least the basics usually helps building credibility. Facilitator can also help the process by asking the right questions or guiding the thinking process with specific methods.
Tips for the facilitator:
- Be neutral. Towards the substance and the participants!
- Take care of the process and prepare to be flexible.
- Make sure everything gets documented – by the participants!
- Remember to use small groups – a conversation among all of the participants is the worst workshopping method.
During the seminar I started thinking about facilitating a bit differently. Yes, it is a big word and experienced facilitators have a lot of methods under their belt and are able to make sense of even the most chaotic group situation. It might still be very fruitful to take the principles of facilitating to an everyday environment and think about the whole process a bit more casually. If facilitating is about combining the groups’ knowledge, it would make a lot of sense to implement the thinking to any situation when you are leading a group discussion. I am for sure planning to start engaging in the facilitator mindset and start planning my own meetings and other group sessions with this in mind. Learning a handful of good methods to get people to participate might not do any harm either!
One thing that also really stuck with me is the thought about the ownership on the ideas created, and the fact that the creation requires time. Therefore a facilitated process cannot be a short one, as group thinking cannot be done in a very short amount of time. The time is however worth it in the end, as the process itself creates commitment and having that from early on is crucial especially in any business environment.
Grape people also organizes sessions where they present their thinking about virtual facilitating, I’m hoping to be able to give you an insight about one of those in the near future.