Smart Learning Lesson: "The Facilitator's Role"
Facilitation is one of the hardest leadership skills to pin down. Unlike other skills of which it is part, such as listening and questioning, facilitation is a mix of many skills and many roles. Here are 7 of the roles.
"The Facilitator's Role": 1. Event Organiser
If you are leading a group activity, you will probably be responsible for many, if not all, of the details of running the group event. This means organising venues, locations, and timetables; obtaining the physical resources needed in the event, such as laptops, projectors, and video recorders; preparing agendas; managing speakers; and, very importantly, letting people know the arrangements. Whether you do this yourself or with a team, don't ignore this role. It will go a long way to establishing your credibility as an organiser and facilitator.
"The Facilitator's Role": 2. Expert
While you can facilitate without being an expert in the group's agenda, you will be much more effective if you have a good understanding of the topic and the issues. When you do, you are in a much better position to steer the group forward. You can also take a more objective view of things particularly if the group are stuck on details. You will also be able to interpret jargon and be the link between guest speakers and the group.
"The Facilitator's Role": 3. Reading the Group
Until your group arrives and starts working together, you will not know for sure just what they want from you. Groups that are newly formed and unsure of each other will most likely want clear direction from you. Groups that know one another and have an existing level of trust will probably expect more freedom to work things out without direction. Sometimes, there will be a mix of people in the group, some wanting direction and others wanting delegation. Reading the group and knowing where to pitch your interventions and suggestions is one of the most important and difficult roles you'll play.
"The Facilitator's Role" 4. Mountain Guide
Facilitators often have to lead from 3 different positions in relation to the group. Sometimes they will lead by example from the front, sometimes as part of the group, and sometimes from the rear in a support role. They are like mountain guides who know just when to tell the group, "Follow me!", when to be one of the team; and when to let everyone climb a cliff first so that they can check their progress from below.
"The Facilitator's Role": 5. Observer
Facilitators need to be close watchers of what is going on in the group at all times, particularly when the group hits a major block. If you are observant, you will sense the problem from how the group starts to behave. There could be stony silences; side conversations; signs of boredom, tiredness, and fidgeting; and things starting to drag. When this happens, stop the group and let people know what you see, eg "Can we review where we are?". Put the problem to the group and ask them what they want to do about it.
"The Facilitator's Role": 6. Nudger
From the very start of the group's work, the wise facilitator looks for opportunities to nudge the group into ownership of its processes. You could for example in the first exercise give people an option between letting you decide how it is to be carried out or letting them decide themselves. Even if they pass on this occasion, use the next occasion to nudge them a little further into accepting responsibility for the task.
"The Facilitator's Role": 7. Catalyst
A catalyst is a substance that merely by its presence causes change in other substances. The facilitator acts like a catalyst when he or she works with others at all levels.
a. at the feeling level, she is wooer, charmer, and empathizer
b. at the thinking level, he is interpreter, questioner, and stimulator
c. at the valuing level, she is champion, enabler, and nurturer.
It isn't by chance that the role of facilitator is hard to define. By its very nature, facilitation is a subtle, under-played, and understated skill. Whatever role you play, don't perform it as if to say, "Look at me!" but perform it with a light and gentle touch.
Sign up here for the full 10-day "Facilitation Skills" e-course .