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Six Elements of Facilitation – Celebrating International Facilitation Week

Written by Intersol Group

This week we’re celebrating the first ever International Facilitation Week, sponsored by the International Association of Facilitators. In honour of the occasion, we’ve put together a couple of blogs on the topic of facilitation. This first one is about what facilitation means, and toward the end of the week we’ll follow up with some ideas on why facilitation is important.

We think there are (at least) six important elements of being a good facilitator.

  1. Preparation and Process Design. In most cases, at least half the work of facilitation happens before the session starts. A strong process plan can have a huge impact on the end result. It’s important to remember that a facilitator does not need to be an expert on the subject matter. Facilitation is like conducting an orchestra – you don’t need to be able to play the instruments but you have to know how they fit together.
  2. Create the right space for discussion. Facilitators must be skilled at establishing a tone and environment that allows the group to have whatever discussion it is that they need to have. This can include anything from having the right tools in the room or in the online environment, to ensuring that everyone feels safe and welcome.
  3. Lead the process and know when to change course. While it is true that facilitation really begins at the planning table, at some point a facilitator must get up in front of a group and guide them through a process. At this point, facilitation becomes a little bit like performance art – you need to know when to throw the process out the window and improvise. Great facilitators can sense what a group needs in order to be able to achieve their outcome, and can make it happen on the spot.
  4. Ensure that everyone is given an opportunity to speak and be heard. Great facilitators recognize the value that each individual brings and that a diversity of ideas and perspectives is critical to a successful outcome. They make sure that everyone is able to contribute.
  5. Ask great questions. The difference between good facilitators and great facilitators is that the great facilitators ask great questions. Even if a facilitator is not familiar with the subject matter, they can often ask key questions that help a group find solutions or identify key issues.
  6. Achieve outcomes through discussion. Ultimately, a facilitator is responsible for helping a group of people achieve a specific outcome through discussion. Helping people achieve outcomes together is becoming increasingly important, because it is getting harder to accomplish very much on your own. More on this in Part 2: Why is facilitation important?

Most importantly, you don’t need to be a professional facilitator to use facilitator behaviours. Anyone can bring value to their teams by applying the six behaviours above in day-to-day work situations.