How facilitation fuels better work

For many years, the popular belief has been that for any given project or initiative to be successful, it needs a strong leader who can take charge and get things done. But what if this paradigm is wrong? What if there are other ways of getting things done–more inclusive and participatory ways–that produce better outcomes than those achieved by traditional leadership?

We believe there is another way. And that way is through facilitation. Today’s article is all about facilitation and how it can fuel better work and create an environment where people get excited and feel like they are part of something awesome.

First, let’s level-set and discuss what facilitation is and what it means to us.

What is Facilitation?

Facilitation means guiding a group or team to achieve its common objectives. The facilitator is the person who is handling this guidance and provides solutions if any roadblocks occur. A big role of the facilitator is to ensure that everyone has a chance to share their ideas and that the discussion stays on track. Facilitation can be useful in various settings, from team meetings to brainstorming sessions. It can help groups overcome creative blocks, generate new ideas, and make decisions more efficiently. In addition, facilitation can promote better communication and collaboration within a team.

When done well, facilitation can be an invaluable tool for any organization.

Different Types of Facilitation

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to proper facilitation. The best way to facilitate depends on the size of the group, the purpose of the gathering, and the personalities or dynamics of the participants. To ensure that your facilitation is effective, it is important to be familiar with the different types of facilitation and how to use them in different situations.

Process Facilitation

At its core, process facilitation is about helping groups of people to work together more effectively. This can involve facilitating team meetings, workshops, and other events where people need to come together to share information and ideas. Process facilitation can also help individuals overcome creative blocks or develop new ideas by providing structure and guidance.

In all cases, the goal is to help people achieve their objectives more efficiently and effectively. While process facilitation has traditionally been used in business settings, it is increasingly used in education, healthcare, and other fields. By helping people work together more effectively, process facilitation can positively impact both individuals and organizations.

Team Facilitation

Team facilitation is the process of leading a team through guided discussion and activities to help them achieve their goals. An effective facilitator will create an environment where all team members feel safe to share their ideas and opinions and where everyone feels respected and heard. Team facilitation can help a team identify their goals, generate creative solutions, improve communication, resolve conflict, and much more. While team facilitation is often associated with formal business meetings, it works in any setting where a group of people needs to work together more effectively. Whether you're leading a team of employees, volunteers, or students, team facilitation can help you get the most out of your group.

How To Be A Good Facilitator

Being a good facilitator is more than just running meetings and keeping people on track. It's also about being an active listener, setting clear expectations, and creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas. While a good facilitator has many leadership characteristics, they aren’t necessarily considered the leader of the meeting. Perhaps the best way to think of a facilitator is like a coach. It’s a coach’s job to train their players, motivate them, and ultimately put the team in a position to win.

Here are some of the ways to be a good facilitator:

  1. Be an active listener. Facilitators need to be able to listen carefully to what people are saying and look for non-verbal cues that can help guide the discussion.
  2. Set clear expectations. Before you start facilitating a discussion, make sure everyone understands the purpose of the meeting and what you hope to accomplish.
  3. Create a comfortable environment. Encourage open communication by creating an environment where people feel safe to share their thoughts and ideas.
  4. Stay on track. Keep the discussion focused on the topic at hand and make sure everyone has a chance to share their thoughts.
  5. Be respectful of everyone's opinions. Remember that not everyone will agree with you, and that's okay. Respectfully listen to other points of view and be willing to compromise when necessary.
  6. Be prepared for anything. Facilitators need to be able to adapt to changing circumstances and handle unexpected situations gracefully.
  7. Be patient and flexible. It takes time and practice to become a good facilitator, so be patient with yourself and be willing to experiment with different techniques until you find what works best for you.
  8.  Stay organized. Keep track of the discussion and ensure everyone is on the same page.
  9. Be aware of your own biases. As a facilitator, it's important to be aware of your own biases and prejudices and try to put them aside when leading a discussion.
  10. Be humble. Facilitators are not always right, and it's okay to admit when you're wrong. Remember that the goal of facilitation is to help a team achieve their goals, not to take control of the discussion.

There are many different ways to facilitate a discussion, and what works for one group may not work for another. The key is to find what works best for you and your team and to be willing to adapt as needed.

Facilitation in Practice

It’s story time! At a digital marketing agency, the creative department needed some fresh ideas for a huge campaign they were working on for a new client. The team leader, let’s call him Santi, recently expressed to his manager that he felt like the team had grown a bit stale over the last six months and could use a fresh approach to their brainstorming session.

Laura, his manager (not her real name), decided it might be best to bring in a facilitator that could help the group. After all, this was a new client with a big marketing budget, and they wanted to make a great first impression to gain their trust and, potentially, more business from them down the road.

The facilitator was brought in, and both Laura and Santi caught them up to speed on the project, its goals, and who to expect at the brainstorming session. The goals were simple: develop some excellent ideas so that the creative team could show off their skills and knock their first campaign with this new client out of the park.

In the facilitator’s mind, the tricky part was the group itself. They learned that the group had gone a bit stale, and no one person was doing their part to help Santi lead the team. As the facilitator saw it, part of the reason was that half of the 12 participants were senior members who led teams themselves. The facilitator asked some questions about the group and discovered that everyone was swamped with busy work nearly all the time, and this was the first big project they’d had to just brainstorm about in a long time.

The group was an excited bunch but also had a thousand other things going on in their brains. Also, even though the team was one unit, many of them had never worked together, and due to a hybrid work environment, they’d never even crossed paths. They only knew each other through meetings and chance one-off assignments.

So, the facilitator got to work. They knew that the first task on the agenda was to get everyone comfortable with each other as quickly as possible and then to get some strong energy flowing. They also knew the importance of getting people out of their heads and focused on their tasks during this meeting instead of the ones waiting for them when the meeting was over. 

Here’s what they did during the meeting:

Started With An Icebreaker

One of the best ways to get to know someone quickly is to get them up on their feet and have them talk about themselves. Icebreakers are fun, and they instantly raise the energy levels of everyone involved. Soon, everyone was engrossed in the icebreaker game instead of thinking about the emails collecting in their inboxes.

Got Creative Juices Flowing

Next, to avoid letting the energy go to waste, the facilitator introduced a challenge that allowed the group to redirect that energy into creative ideas. Even before going into detail about the creative brief and what they were attempting to accomplish that day, the facilitator asked them to come up with some of the craziest ideas they could think of based on the information they currently had about the client.

They were encouraged to take ideas as far as possible and not worry about judging them. The group developed dozens of ideas. Some were strong, others were not so strong, and a few would never work for any client. The only part that mattered was that creative juices were flowing, and the energy in the room grew stronger.

The Facilitator Facilitated

After those early exercises, the rest of the meeting was smooth sailing, and people left the room with smiles on their faces and an extra giddy-up in their step. Laura and Santi were delighted with the facilitator's work and were happy to have multiple ideas to share with the client. Even after the meeting, both Santi and Laura followed up that the staleness had completely left the team, and the creative department was doing some of its most inspired work in years.

And that is the power that facilitation can bring. Not only can a facilitator get a team where they need to go, but they can inspire and reinvigorate a team long after they’ve left.

The Future of Facilitation

The future of facilitation is an ever-evolving landscape. Just as technology and the workplace have changed dramatically over the past few years, the facilitator’s role has changed too.

Today, facilitators are increasingly being called upon to help organizations adapt to the new normal of remote and hybrid working environments. Individuals feel siloed, teams don’t feel cohesive, and managers who spent years learning how to handle their team in person are lost on moving forward. While we may not know where the future of work will take us, many can agree that some form of this environment could stick around for a long time. The managers and leaders of organizations who take the time to build better strategies now are the ones who will win and grow their businesses in the long run.

In Conclusion

Facilitation is one of the keys to unlocking a team's full potential. It's not about telling people what to do but instead helping them find their own way and giving them the tools they need to be successful. When done well, facilitation can help teams achieve things they never thought possible.

What do you think?

Could facilitation help fuel better work among your employees or leadership team? We think so.

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