The Role Of A Facilitator

Estimated read time 5 min read

A facilitator is the protector of the facilitation process and those involved in it.

This protection is achieved through:

  • Creativity.
  • Adaptability.
  • Direction.
  • Attachment.

To achieve this result, a facilitator can adopt many roles:

  • Advisor to bring out the full potential of groups.
  • Provider of a process that allows work to be completed quickly and effectively in a group.
  • A conflict resolver.
  • An organizer.

Research has identified several traits of an excellent facilitator

  • Confidence.
  • Flexibility.
  • Objectivity.
  • Patience.
  • Neutrality.
  • Ability to think on your feet.
  • Active listener.
  • Excellent questioner.
  • Empathy.
  • Articulate.
  • Sense of humor.

These traits are essentially a set of interpersonal and management skills designed to get the most out of people in a very focused manner.

What a Facilitator is Not!

Having identified some of the traits of excellent facilitators, it is now important to understand what a facilitator is not.

A facilitator is not:

  • A manipulator of the situation.
  • An individual who offers his or her own solution.
  • A judge.
  • A monopolizer.

It is important to note that the neutrality of the facilitator is paramount.

A facilitator is in place to protect the process of facilitation and all the participants engaged within that process.

The Facilitator And The Facilitation Process

A facilitation process can be divided into three distinct stages:

  • Stage 1: Define the purpose, outcomes, and products required from the process.
  • Stage 2: Design and define the actual process.
  • Stage 3: Implement the process and ensure the outcomes and products.

If after the completion of stage 3, the outcomes & products meet the original definitions, then the process can finish. If outcomes and products do not meet the original definitions then return to Stage 1.

How A Facilitator Will Protect The Process

As indicated above, the role of the facilitator is to protect the process and the participants within the process.

By understanding this role we can identify both task and maintenance functions that a facilitator will occupy.

To illustrate, a facilitator must make:

  • No judgments.
  • No contributions.
  • Not take sides.

In fact, the responsibility for the process has to cascade down into the various tasks associated with the role of a facilitator. To illustrate, a facilitator is responsible for|:

  • Setting agendas.
  • Capturing data.
  • Time management.
  • Information seeking.
  • Clarifying.
  • Coordinating.
  • Summarizing.
  • Relieving tension.

These task functions, also known as facilitator functions, have to be managed with facilitator maintenance functions such as:

  • Harmonizing.
  • Gatekeeping.
  • Encouraging.
  • Consensus seeking.
  • Compromising.
  • Standard keeping.

It can be seen from these maintenance roles that the facilitation process is based around people and their involvement with each other and the overall process.

As result, a facilitator will need to adopt certain facilitator styles to manage the task and maintenance functions.

Facilitator Styles

Depending on the situation, a facilitator will adopt one or a combination of the following styles.

  • Directive.
  • Exploratory.
  • Delegating.
  • Participative.
  • Interpretive.
  • Evaluative.

No matter which style is adopted, the facilitator must act in a way that shows their commitment to the following principles and values:

  • Listening.
  • Confidentiality.
  • Respect.
  • Value of personal experience.
  • Agreed goals.
  • Group process through involvement.
  • Trust and safety.
  • Inclusion & encouragement.

How A Facilitator Will Design A Facilitation Process

The basic steps in designing the process or facilitation session are as follows:

  1. Clarify the purpose.
  2. Define the outcomes and products again.
  3. Determine the participants.
  4. Design the sequence of activities.
  5. Decide on how to begin and end the session.
  6. Determine any logistical issues.
  7. Complete the agenda.
  8. Agree and finalize the design with the group.

When designing the process there are several factors that must be taken into consideration:

  • Group size – if it is too big or small it can significantly impact the process.
  • Availability of draft materials – without full documentation it is hard to reach a consensus
  • Logical sequencing – how activities are sequenced can impact progress e.g., without knowledge of clear outcomes a lot of time can be wasted which can in turn cause frustration and mistrust.
  • Information – this is key and there needs to be openness and honesty throughout the process
  • Time demands – adequate time must be set aside to ensure closure to the process. If enough time is not set aside participants may feel that their input is undervalued.
  • Post-session follow-up – participants need to feel that their input has been considered and followed through on especially if you want them to engage again.

The Environment

The previous factors dealt primarily with the process and support issues, however, another significant factor is the environment. The facilitation process can be either helped or hindered by environmental factors such as:

  • Comfort.
  • Access.
  • Noise.
  • Availability of equipment.

It is up to the facilitator to make sure that the environment is in fact suitable to accommodate the process.

After The Facilitation Session

The facilitator’s responsibility does not end at the completion of the session, they are responsible for ensuring that:

  • Participants receive any documented output from the session as soon as possible.
  • Any follow-up activity decided upon during the session has been assigned.

It is important to stress that the facilitator should not be the person who coordinates follow-up activity – they are just the person who makes sure that it gets completed.

Final Thought: Do You Think That You Could Be A Facilitator?

These are the basic requirements of the facilitator which can act as a checklist to assess your suitability as a facilitator.

  • Are you able to listen without bias or judgment?
  • Do you respect the opinions of others even when they disagree with you?
  • Are you comfortable dealing with conflict?
  • Can you think on your feet?
  • Can you accept feedback on your performance from others?
  • Are you comfortable in front of a crowd?
  • Can you leave your own agenda behind?

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