As a facilitator, it is not your place to analyse or solve the problem, but to make it easy for the team to solve the problem.
The facilitator intervenes by ensuring, for example:
- Agendas, actions, follow-up – that they set actions and carry them through
- Time-keeping – that they stick to their deadlines
- Participation by all team members – that no one dominates, and no one is left out
- Team focus – that they don’t wander off the point
- Clarity and agreement of objectives and action points – that they all understand where they’re headed and who’s doing what
- Airing of all issues – that problems don’t go unresolved
- Provision of supporting data and documents – that they have the wherewithal to carry out what is expected of them
As the facilitator, unlike the team members, your key concern should not be the problem itself, but ensuring the problem is understood, approached and analysed correctly; if you are dragged into discussion on content, there’s a good chance you’ll lose control of the process. Now, if there is no formal facilitator what can you do?
- You could ask for outside help, a trusted colleague to observe the group, in action and give feedback
- You could ask one of the team to step back and observe the team in action, there are lots of techniques to evaluate a team in action:-
- Simple recording of interactions, who is listening – engaging, who is disrupting – sabotaging. Friction may be dysfunctional but it may be more productive.
- Is there a clear process to manage the meeting and outcomes
- More formal analysis can be conducted – Belbin to consider the dynamics , one-2-one coaching
If you appear to favour one view more than another, you risk losing the team’s trust and respect
- To maintain impartiality, ideally aim to only facilitate teams of which you are not an active member – i.e. do not wear two hats in the team
- Keep your opinion to yourself; watch out for ‘opinion intrusion’, i.e. those slips of the tongue which inadvertently reveal your view; examples of ‘opinion intrusion’ and more impartial alternatives:
- ‘we tried that approach two years ago and I don’t think it worked’
- ‘Let’s add that suggestion to the list; now, are there any others?’
- ‘that’s a good idea’
- ‘Thanks for your input; would anyone care to comment?’
Central to the role of facilitator, and can be used to:
- Bring team members back to the point
- Force them to consider a point which they have overlooked or avoided
- Add fresh impetus when the team is running out of steam
- Overcome conflict or an impasse
PS: A good chair / team leader should be a facilitator – it is a skill of leaders
Four main intervention methods:
- Suggesting: e.g. if the team is stuck – ‘might I suggest? what about?, ‘would it be an idea to consider …?’
- Physical leading: e.g. if the team needs focus, e.g. writing on flip chart
- Summarising: also useful if the team is losing the plot; e.g. ‘let’s recap, as I understand it, so far we’ve …’
- Questioning: to encourage them to clarify, explain, expand, reconsider;
The key question types and when to use them:
- Open-ended: questions that cannot be answered with a yes or no, to stimulate their thinking how/what/why/when type questions
e.g. how would that help improve productivity
- Greater response: to generate a deeper explanation, or clarification often use the terms ‘describe’, ‘tell’, ‘explain
e.g. could you just describe for us how that would work
- Redirection: to deflect a question which asks directly for the facilitator’s view
e.g. what do you think (to the facilitator); that’s interesting, I suppose it would depend on a number of factors. John, what has your experience been in this field?
- Closed: to verify the facts, call for yes/no answers
e.g. so the normal lead time for that particular line is 6 weeks?
Budding facilitators take note: making it easy for them, makes it far from easy on you.