Facilitation Tips: What Works and What Doesn’t
Facilitators can help to direct and effectively manage meetings by following the tips listed below:
- Stay Neutral on Content: Focus on the process and avoid the temptation to offer opinions.
- Listen Actively: Look people in the eye, use attentive body language, and paraphrase what participants are saying.
- Paraphrase to clarify: Repeat what participants say to make sure they know they are being heard.
- Ask Questions: Use questions to challenge assumptions, invite participation, gather information, and probe for hidden points.
- Use the Flip Chart: Keep a written record to keep track of the discussion, emerging ideas, and decisions. Keep notes concise and ensure they reflect precisely what participants said.
- Keep Time: Follow the time limits on the agenda, and begin and end meetings on time.
- Play “Ping Pong”: When a participant asks a question or makes a comment, redirect it by sending it back to another participant to answer or build on. This is a good way to get participants to interact with one another. Deflect the other comments and discussion participants direct to the facilitator.
- Test Assumptions: Bring assumptions out into the open so that they are clearly understood by all team members.
- Synthesize: Don’t just record individual ideas; get participants to comment and build on each other’s thoughts to ensure that the ideas noted on the flip chart represent the group’s collective thinking.
- Hold up a Mirror: Periodically tell the group how they look to you so that you can interpret their actions and they can make corrections (e.g., “Only one person is adding to this discussion—what does that mean?”)
- Summarize: Offer concise and timely summaries. Summarize to revive a stilted discussion or to wrap up a discussion that needs to conclude.
- Label Sidetracks: Let the group members know when they have gotten off track. Ask them if they want to pursue the sidetrack or return to the agenda.
- Use the “Parking Lot”: Use an extra sheet of flipchart paper to “park” sidetracked items. These parking lot sheets can be used to return to ideas later that may be important, while allowing the discussion to stay on track.
The techniques employed by facilitators can significantly help or hinder the group’s progress.
Some of the best things a facilitator can do include:
- Carefully assessing the needs of the members
- Probing sensitively into people’s thoughts and reactions
- Creating an open and trusting atmosphere
- Helping people understand their importance to the group
- Viewing themselves as a servant of the group’s needs
- Making team members the center of attention
- Speaking in simple and direct language
- Working hard to stay neutral
- Displaying energy and appropriate levels of assertiveness
- Being a champion of ideas not personally favored
- Treating all participants as equals
- Staying flexible and ready to change direction if necessary
- Making notes that reflect what participants mean
- Listening intently to totally understand what is being said
- Summarizing complex ideas in a way that is simple for team members to understand
- Ensuring that participants feel ownership for what has been achieved
Some of the worst things a facilitator can do include:
- Being oblivious to what the group thinks or needs
- Failing to check group concerns
- Not listening carefully to what is being said
- Losing track of key ideas
- Taking poor notes or change the meaning of what is said
- Trying to be the center of attention
- Getting defensive
- Engaging in personality battles
- Putting people down
- Letting bias show
- Unassertively managing conflict
- Letting a few participants dominate
- Failing to check on the meeting’s progress
- Being overly passive
- Pushing ahead on an irrelevant agenda
- Letting discussions ramble
- Being insensitive to cultural diversity issues
- Using inappropriate humor
Adapted from Bens, Ingrid (1999). Facilitation at a Glance! AQP/Participative Dynamics/GOAL/QPC.