Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What does a facilitator do?

In my last post, I mentioned some of the benefits of facilitation. In this post, I will offer a brief "inside look" at what kinds of things that a facilitator should be thinking about and paying attention to while they are working for you.

When designing an agenda, a facilitator considers:
  • Issues, conflicts, feelings in the community.
  • What the group has tried before.
  • Skill level of the group. Sometimes the group can benefit from sharpening their skills.
  • Methods that the group is used to using. Sometimes the group can benefit from learning new methods.
  • Where the group is in their overall process. Are they a new group? Experience?
  • What the group needs to accomplish.
  • How much time they have to meet.
  • The ebb and flow of energy levels throughout the meeting.
  • The ebb and flow of “divergence” and “convergence” throughout the meeting. Ideally, you want to end on convergence.
  • The ebb and flow of “process” and “action.” Each meeting has its own ideal balance.
  • Accounting for all of the learning styles—feelers, observers, thinkers, and doers.
  • Planning to make space for all voices are heard—especially minority voices.
Just to give you an idea of the variety of meeting formats that can be used, I will mention a few below. The facilitator should be competent in using a variety of styles:
  • Go-rounds
  • Large group processes
  • Small group processes
  • Dyad processes
  • Brainstorming
  • Card storming
  • Prioritizing
  • Voting (there are many kinds of voting)
  • Consensus (there are different versions of this as well)
  • Problem solving processes (again, there a several)
  • Sharing circles
  • Fishbowls
  • Kinetic mapping
  • Guided meditation
  • Role play
  • And also a variety of openings, transfer-ins, “light and livelies,” closings
Before the meeting, the facilitator needs to attend to the physical space:
  • Privacy, interruptions, noise
  • Set up, furniture, energetics, sight lines, wall space
  • Easels, flip charts, tape, pens, any props or supplies needed for exercises
  • Writing up agenda, groundrules, instructions, etc. on flip charts and hand outs
  • Make sure that the notetaker, scribe, greeter, timekeeper, coffeemaker, presenter, heart-keeper, etc. roles are filled
  • Make sure the comfort factors are handled (food, drink, bathrooms, temperature, accessibility)
During the meeting, the facilitator needs to:
  • Lead the opening
  • Lead the transfer-in
  • Review the agenda
  • Explain the activities
  • Provide instruction (training is a whole other skill set, but one that the facilitator should have)
And then the meat and potatoes of the facilitation itself:
  • Contact statements (“getting” where each person is at, so that they know they are heard, and the group gets it too)
  • Summaries
  • Weaving (connecting individual statements to each other)
  • Groping (if it is not clear what is being said)
  • Delegating
  • Conflict management
While keeping the following mindsets:
  • Invite the whole person (including intuition, emotion, heat, body—not just mind)
  • Be “content neutral”—not have a stake in the particular outcome
  • Find the common ground
  • Be everyone’s ally
  • Remember: it’s not about you
  • Know what you don’t know
  • Model an eagerness for new information, be curious
  • Admit your mistakes and be open to feedback and where you are at your own learning edge
  • Service—always be in the question: “what does the group most need in this moment?” and then do that
Of course the whole time the facilitator should be tracking:
  • Where are we in the agenda?
  • How much time do we have left?
  • What is going on with each person?
  • What is going on with the whole group?
  • How can this increase the groups capacity to work together?
  • What is coming “around the bend”—what is this interaction going to lead to?
  • Is everyone participating equally?
  • Are the minority voices being heard?
  • Are all the learning styles getting their needs met at some point?
  • Are both the “process” and the “action” people getting their needs met?
Scribing is also a very important component of meetings:
  • agendas
  • brainstorming
  • note-taking
  • parking lots
  • graphics to highlight, weave, etc.
  • non-verbal representation
  • group recording and reporting back
And finally, the facilitator should be holding three levels of the group's process:
  • the current interaction
  • the ebb and flow of the meeting
  • the place of the meeting in the greater process--especially, what skills can the group be learning now, that will help it down the line?
Hopefully these lists will give you some idea of the kinds of things that go on inside a facilitator's head, and what you are paying for.