There is nothing like a good facilitator to help a team communicate about important issues and reach needed decisions. At the same time, there’s nothing like a bad facilitator to make people irritated, or worse. By facilitator, I mean someone who is brought in from outside the group to help employees discuss issues. Facilitators can perform a variety of functions including leading retreats, mediating conflict, running strategic planning meetings, and so on.
So what distinguishes a good from a bad facilitator?
- A good facilitator has some background in the issues, personalities, and challenges facing the group. It’s not just technique: the facilitator has to understand at least some of the dynamics, past interactions, code words, and key events that underlie the group’s discussion.
- A good facilitator sees the group and its problems as unique. Participants will know immediately if the facilitator sees them not as individuals but as role players in a typical group dynamic. Related to this: the facilitator cannot seem patronizing or condescending. The facilitator serves a specific role, but he or she is not thereby “above” the group.
- A good facilitator creates a safe environment where participants feel able to speak honestly. He or she also ensures that everyone has an opportunity to participate.
- A good facilitator has confidence and tells it like it is. This doesn’t mean he or she takes sides, but it’s important for the facilitator to jump in and clarify what’s happening and to tell the participants – diplomatically, but honestly – what he or she is hearing and seeing.
- A good facilitator moves the meeting along. It’s not good to visibly rush the participants, but there are techniques that help ensure that no one person or issue will dominate the meeting and that the meeting will be productive. For example, the facilitator can summarize the views that have been expressed as a means to transition to the next level of discussion,
- A good facilitator knows how to squelch bad behavior in a way that doesn’t sidetrack the discussion. And if the behavior is such that the meeting does have to come to a stop, the facilitator knows how to deal with the problem and move back to the agenda.
- Finally, a good facilitator likes people and sincerely wants to help them reach goals. No one wants to feel “processed.”
Any other ideas on what makes a facilitator good? ~Amy Stephson