The definitive guide to running productive meetings Facilitating With Ease! has become the go-to handbook for those who lead meetings, training, and other business gatherings. Packed with information, effective practices, and invaluable advice, this book is the comprehensive handbook for anyone who believes meetings should be productive, relevant, and as short as possible. Dozens of exercises, surveys, and checklists will help transform anyone into a skilled facilitator, and clear, actionable guidance makes implementation a breeze. This new fourth edition includes a new chapter on questioning, plus new material surrounding diversity, globalization, technology, feedback, distance teams, difficult executives, diverse locations, personal growth, meeting management, and much more. With in-depth, expert guidance from planning to closing, this book provides facilitators with an invaluable resource for learning or training. Before you run another meeting, discover the practices, processes, and techniques that turn you from a referee to an effective facilitator. This book provides a wealth of tools and insights that you can put into action today. * Run productive meetings that get real results * Keep discussions on track and facilitate the exchange of ideas * Resolve conflict and deal with difficult individuals * Train leaders and others to facilitate effectively Poorly-run meetings are an interruption in the day, and accomplish little other than putting everyone behind in their "real" work. On the other hand, a meeting run by an effective facilitator makes everyone's job easier; decisions get made, strategies are improved, answers are given, and new ideas bubble to the surface. A productive meeting makes everyone happy, and results in real benefits that spread throughout the organization. Facilitating With Ease! is the skill-building guide to running great meetings with confidence and results.
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Facilitating with Ease!
Chapter One: Understanding Facilitation
What Is Facilitation?
What Does a Facilitator Do?
What Do Facilitators Believe?
What Are Typical Facilitator Assignments?
Differentiating Between Process and Content
Core Practices Overview
What Does Neutral Mean?
Learn to Say “Okay”
When to Say “We”
How Assertive Can a Facilitator Be?
The Language of Facilitation
Starting a Facilitation
During a Facilitation
Ending a Facilitation
Effective Note Taking
The Rules of Wording
Managing the Flip Chart
Facilitator Behaviors and Strategies
Core Practices Observation Sheet
Process Flow Observation Sheet
Facilitation Skill Levels
Facilitation Skills Self-Assessment
Chapter Two: Effective Questioning
The Principles of Effective Questioning
The Importance of Follow-On Questions
Asking Sensitive Questions
The Question Bank
Chapter Three: Facilitation Stages
1. Assessment and Design
2. Feedback and Refinement
3. Final Preparation
4. Starting a Facilitation
5. During a Facilitation
6. Ending a Facilitation
7. Following Up on a Facilitation
Seeking Feedback on Your Facilitation
Chapter Four: Who Can Facilitate
When to Use an Internal Facilitator
When to Use an External Facilitator
When Leaders Facilitate
Facilitation Strategies for Leaders
Best and Worst Facilitation Practices for Leaders
Facilitation As a Leadership Style
Additional Role Challenges
Chapter Five: Knowing Your Participants
Conducting an Assessment
Group Assessment Survey
Comparing Groups to Teams
Understanding Team Stages
Forming—The Honeymoon Stage
Storming—The Potential Death of the Team
Norming—The Turning Point
Performing—The Ultimate Team Growth Stage
Adjourning—The Final Stage
Facilitation Strategies Chart
Team Effectiveness Survey
Chapter Six: Creating Participation
Creating the Conditions for Full Participation
Removing the Blocks to Participation
Group Participation Survey
Encouraging Effective Meeting Behaviors
Group Behaviors Handout
Observing Group Behaviors in Action
Peer Review Instructions
Peer Review Worksheet
Chapter Seven: Effective Decision Making
Know the Four Types of Conversations
The Four Levels of Empowerment
Clarifying the Four Empowerment Levels
Shifting Decision-Making Paradigms
The Decision-Making Options
Decision Options Chart
The Divergence/Convergence Model
The Importance of Building Consensus
Effective Decision-Making Behaviors
Symptoms, Causes, and Cures of Poor Decisions
Decision Effectiveness Survey
Chapter Eight: Facilitating Conflict
Comparing Arguments and Debates
Steps in Managing Conflict
The Five Conflict Options: Pros and Cons
Conflict Management Norms
Giving and Receiving Feedback
Wording an Intervention
Dealing with Resistance
The Right Approach
Common Conflict Dilemmas
The Facilitative Conflict Management Process
Interpersonal Conflict Worksheet
Group Conflict Checklist
Conflict Observation Sheet
Conflict Effectiveness Survey
Chapter Nine: Meeting Management
Meetings That Work
Our Meetings Are Terrible!
The Fundamentals of Meeting Management
Sample Agenda with Process Notes
Sample Process Check Survey
Sample Exit Survey
Meeting Effectiveness Survey
Facilitating Virtual Meetings
Chapter Ten: Process Tools for Facilitators
Needs and Offers Dialogue
The Five Whys
Systematic Problem Solving
Systematic Problem Solving Worksheet 1
Systematic Problem Solving Worksheet 2
Systematic Problem Solving Worksheet 3
Systematic Problem Solving Worksheet 4
Systematic Problem Solving Worksheet 5
Systematic Problem Solving Worksheet 6
Systematic Problem Solving Worksheet 7
Systematic Problem Solving Worksheet 8
Chapter Eleven: Structured Conversations
Structured Conversation 1—Discovery
Structured Conversation 2—Environmental Scanning
Structured Conversation 3—Team Launch
Structured Conversation 4—Vision and Mission
Structured Conversation 5—Work Planning, Roles, and Responsibilities
Structured Conversation 6—Risk Assessment
Structured Conversation 7—Stakeholder Analysis
Structured Conversation 8—Communication Planning
Structured Conversation 9—Status Update Meeting
Structured Conversation 10—Creative Thinking
Structured Conversation 11—Midpoint Check
Structured Conversation 12—Systematic Problem Solving
Structured Conversation 13—Constructive Controversy
Structured Conversation 14—Survey Feedback
Structured Conversation 15—Interpersonal Issue Resolution
Structured Conversation 16—Overcoming Resistance
Structured Conversation 17—Project Retrospective
Structured Conversation 18—Project Adjournment
About the Author
End User License Agreement
Table of Contents
If you're only going to buy one book on facilitation, this is the one to buy! That's what we tell the managers, consultants, and facilitators who attend our facilitation training programs. It's a gold mine of ideas, resources, and practical tools.
—Ronnie McEwan, Director, Kinharvie Institute, Glasgow, Scotland
I have rarely run into a better collection of pragmatic tips, tools, and techniques. If you work with people to accomplish something important, save yourself a lifetime of trial and error: read this book, put its message to use, and start seeing where real collaboration can lead your organization.
—Adriano Pianesi, ParticipAction Consulting, Inc., Washington, D.C.
Ingrid Bens's masterful book Facilitation with Ease! is a must-have for any facilitator regardless of experience. I use it extensively to review processes, tools, and techniques before any engagement.
—George F. Smith, CPF, Summit Consultants, Atlanta, Georgia
Facilitating With Ease! provides clear and effective guidelines for group facilitation. In China we are using this book to help organizations develop facilitative leaders who can successfully invoke the spirit of cooperation and team synergy.
—Ren Wei, Professional Facilitator, X'ian, China
Facilitating With Ease! helps beginners as well as experienced facilitators to find their way along different aspects of facilitation. Easy to understand, this book provides insight into the principles of facilitation and shows examples of practical applications for concrete situations.
—Sieglinde Hinger, Siemens Corporation, Austria
Facilitating with Ease! is by far the easiest-to-use, most comprehensive, and most well-structured resource guide I have ever seen! No wonder both new and seasoned facilitators find it invaluable. A must-have if facilitation is a skill you need in your toolbox.
—Larry L. Looker, Manager, Global Leadership Development, Amway Corporation, USA
Facilitating with Ease! is the fundamental read if you want to be an effective facilitator. We refer to it all the time and consider it a core competency for our consultants.
—Ian Madell, Managing Director, LEVEL5 Branded Business Advisors, Toronto, Canada
I have been using Ingrid's materials for many years and find her books to be far above everything else out there. This latest revision builds on what was already great and will surely increase the effectiveness of any practitioner.
—Mark Vilbert, Program Leader Boeing leadership Center
This book is just excellent! The comprehensive set of practical tools is for everyone engaged in improving how groups work. Helps you to just do it!
—Ewa Malia, CPF, Polish Insitutute of Facilitation, Warsaw
Cover image: © poba/iStockphotoCover design: Wiley
Copyright © 2018 by Ingrid Bens. All rights reserved.Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey.Published simultaneously in Canada.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise, except as permitted under Section 107 or 108 of the 1976 United States Copyright Act, without either the prior written permission of the Publisher, or authorization through payment of the appropriate per-copy fee to the Copyright Clearance Center, 222 Rosewood Drive, Danvers, MA 01923, (978) 750-8400, fax (978) 646-8600, or on the web at www.copyright.com. Requests to the Publisher for permission should be addressed to the Permissions Department, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 111 River Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030, (201) 748-6011, fax (201) 748-6008, or online at www.wiley.com/go/permissions.
Limit of Liability/Disclaimer of Warranty: While the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparing this book, they make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this book and specifically disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. No warranty may be created or extended by sales representatives or written sales materials. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation. You should consult with a professional where appropriate. Neither the publisher nor the author shall be liable for damages arising herefrom.
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Wiley publishes in a variety of print and electronic formats and by print-on-demand. Some material included with standard print versions of this book may not be included in e-books or in print-on-demand. If this book refers to media such as a CD or DVD that is not included in the version you purchased, you may download this material at http://booksupport.wiley.com. For more information about Wiley products, visit www.wiley.com.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:
Names: Bens, Ingrid, author.
Title: Facilitating with ease! / by Ingrid Bens.
Description: 4th edition. | Hoboken, New Jersey : John Wiley & Sons, Inc.,  | Includes bibliographical references and index. |
Identifiers: LCCN 2017029436 (print) | LCCN 2017040993 (ebook) | ISBN 9781119434283 (pdf) | ISBN 9781119434276 (epub) | ISBN 9781119434252 (pbk) : alk. paper)
Subjects: LCSH: Teams in the workplace. | Group facilitation.
Classification: LCC HD66 (ebook) | LCC HD66 .B445 2018 (print) | DDC 658.4/56—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017029436
It's impossible to be part of an organization today and not attend meetings. Staff meetings, project meetings, task-force meetings, planning and coordinating meetings . . . the list is endless. The worst thing about many of these meetings is that they're poorly run and waste valuable time.
Today, there's a growing recognition that effective meetings happen when proper attention is paid to the process elements and when proceedings are skillfully facilitated.
For a long time, facilitation has been a rather vague and poorly understood practice, mastered only by human-resource types. This is beginning to change. We're now spending so much time in meetings and being asked to achieve so many important goals in teams that there's a growing need for skilled facilitation throughout our organizations and our communities.
Instead of being relegated to HR, facilitation is fast becoming a core competency for anyone who leads a team, manages a project, heads up a committee, or manages a department. All of these people need to be able to create and manage effective group dynamics that foster true collaboration.
Facilitation is also a central skill for today's managers, who are riding wave after wave of change. New demands are being placed on them. At the same time, the old command and control model of supervision, which worked for decades, is no longer as effective.
To get the most from people today, leaders have to know how to create buy-in, generate participation, and empower people.
To keep pace, today's leaders need to be coaches, mentors, and teachers. At the core of each of these new roles is the skill of facilitation.
This practical workbook has been created to make core facilitation tools and techniques readily available to the growing number of people who want to improve their process skills. It represents materials and ideas that have been collected, tested, and refined over decades of active facilitation in all types of settings. This fourth edition retains the core tools and instruments that made the first three editions so popular. In addition, new materials have been added to every chapter.
As in the previous three editions, Facilitating with Ease! remains a practical workbook. While it builds on the theories of organization development pioneers such as Chris Argyris, Donald Schön, and Edgar Schein, this resource doesn't aim to be theoretical. Instead, its focus is on providing the reader with the most commonly used process tools in a simple and accessible format. This is not so much a book to be read, as one to be used!
With its focus on asking instead of telling, listening, and building consensus, facilitation is the essential skill for anyone working collaboratively with others.
This workbook contains valuable information for anyone facilitating group interactions. This is a huge constituency, which includes:
team leaders and team members
any supervisor or manager who holds staff meetings
teachers in traditional classroom settings
therapists who lead support groups
marketing consultants who run focus groups
teachers of adult continuing-education programs
negotiators and conflict mediators
quality consultants leading process improvement initiatives like Six Sigma
consultants intervening in conflicts
anyone teaching others to facilitate
anyone called on to lead a discussion or run a meeting
Since facilitation was designed as a role for neutral outsiders, the strategies and techniques in this book are described from the perspective of the external facilitator. Since more and more facilitation is being done by those who have a stake in the outcome of discussions, the third edition includes strategies that help leaders and group members manage the challenges of staying neutral.
The book is organized into eleven chapters. Checklists and tools have not been collected in an appendix, but instead are located throughout each chapter, near the related materials.
Chapter One outlines what facilitation is and its main applications. It differentiates process from content and outlines the core practices. It also addresses facilitation issues such as neutrality, how assertive a facilitator can be, and how to balance the role of the group leader with that of the facilitator.
Chapter One also describes what facilitators do at the beginning, middle, and end of discussions. It provides information about the language of facilitation, the principles of giving and receiving feedback, plus a thumbnail sketch of the best and worst practices of facilitators.
At the end of the chapter, there are two observation sheets and a four-level skills self-assessment, useful to anyone hoping for feedback on current skills.
Chapter Two is a new addition to this book. It features important information about the central role of questioning in the practice of facilitation and how to use questions effectively. Question types and formats are outlined, along with guidance about the importance of follow-on questions. This new chapter also provides a bank of questions that are useful for learning more about the client.
Chapter Three explores the stages of designing and managing a facilitation assignment. It describes the importance of each step in the facilitation process: assessment, design, feedback, refinement, and final preparation. Helpful checklists are also provided to guide the start, middle, and end of any facilitation session.
Chapter Four focuses on how facilitation can be managed by leaders. This is a major new addition and reflects the growing awareness among leaders of the importance of process management.
This chapter explores the challenges leaders face when they facilitate and provides strategies that help leaders effectively manage a group process. This chapter also discusses the issues encountered when the facilitator feels he or she lacks authority or is working with people of senior rank.
Chapter Five focuses on knowing your participants and provides information about the four most commonly used needs-assessment techniques. Sample assessment questions and surveys are provided. This chapter also discusses the differences between facilitating groups and facilitating teams and passes along strategies for getting any group to behave more like an effective team. The creation of team norms is discussed, along with an overview of the team growth stages and the corresponding facilitation strategies that work best at each stage.
Chapter Six begins with a frank discussion of the many reasons people are often less than enthusiastic to be involved in a meeting or workshop and provides tested strategies for overcoming these blocks, including ideas on gaining buy-in. High-participation techniques are also shared, along with a training plan to encourage effective meeting behaviors in members.
Chapter Seven delves into the complexities of decision making. Facilitators are introduced to the types of discussions and the importance of clarifying empowerment. Various methods for reaching decisions are described and differentiated. The pros, cons, and uses of each approach are explored, along with an expanded discussion of consensus building. Chapter Seven also offers an overview of the behaviors that help decision effectiveness and provides the steps in the systematic consensus-building process. The chapter ends with a discussion of poor decisions: their symptoms, causes, and cures. A survey is provided with which a group can assess its current decision-making effectiveness.
Chapter Eight deals with facilitative strategies for handling both conflict and resistance. It begins with an overview of the difference between healthy debates and dysfunctional arguments. It goes on to share techniques that encourage healthy debates and the steps in managing any conflict. Special attention is paid to strategies for venting emotions. The five conflict-management options are also explored and placed into the context of which are most appropriate for facilitators.
Chapter Eight also provides a three-part format for wording interventions that tactfully allows a facilitator to redirect inappropriate behavior. Also described are the two approaches a facilitator can choose when confronted with resistance and why one is superior. At the end of the chapter, nine common facilitator dilemmas and their solutions are presented.
Chapter Nine focuses on meeting management. There's a useful checklist and meeting effectiveness diagnostic that lets groups assess whether or not their meetings are working. There's also a chart that outlines the symptoms and cures for common meeting ills. The fundamentals of meeting management are outlined, with special emphasis on the role of the facilitator as compared to the traditional chairperson role. Both midpoint checks and exit surveys are explained, and samples are provided. Since virtual meetings are on the rise, strategies are offered for using facilitation techniques during distance meetings.
Chapter Ten contains the process tools that are fundamental to all facilitation activities. These include: visioning, sequential questioning, force-field analysis, brainstorming, gap analysis, root-cause analysis, decision grids, affinity diagrams, needs-and-offers dialogue, systematic problem solving, survey feedback, multi-voting, and troubleshooting. Each tool is described, and step-by-step directions are given for using it.
Chapter Eleven pulls it all together by providing seventeen sets of process design notes, complete with detailed step-by-step instructions. In this fourth edition, the meeting design notes have been updated to include the virtual version of each conversation. These notes will be a real asset to facilitators who conduct meetings with far-flung groups.
The seventeen structured conversations in this chapter represent the discussions facilitators are most often called upon to lead. These examples provide a graphic illustration of the level of detail a facilitator needs to develop before stepping in front of any group.
After years of experience as a consultant, project manager, team leader, and trainer, I'm convinced that it's impossible to build teams, consistently achieve consensus, or run effective decision-making meetings without highly developed facilitation skills. The good news is that these skills can be mastered by anyone! I hope you find the fourth edition of Facilitating with Ease! to be a valuable resource in your quest to gain this important skill.
Ingrid Bens, M.Ed., CPF
What is facilitation? When do I use it?
What's the role of the facilitator?
What are the main tools and techniques?
What are the values and attitudes of a facilitator?
How neutral do I really need to be?
How assertive am I allowed to be?
How can those who have a stake in the group's decisions facilitate?
How can I facilitate when I'm not the official facilitator?
How do I balance the roles of chairperson and facilitator?
How do I get everyone to participate?
Can facilitation techniques be used to manage distance meetings?
How do I overcome people's reluctance to open up?
What's the difference between a group and a team?
How can I get a group to act like a team?
What do I do if a group is very cynical?
What do I do if I encounter high resistance?
What if there's zero buy-in?
What are my options for dealing with conflict?
What if a meeting falls apart and I lose control?
What decision-making techniques are available?
Why is consensus building most effective for arriving at a group decision?
What can go wrong in making decisions?
How do I make sure that discussions achieve closure?
What facilitation tools are available?
How do I design an effective process?
How do I know whether the meeting is going well?
What are the elements of an effective meeting design?
How can facilitation be used to manage virtual meetings?
One who contributes structure and process to interactions so groups are able to function effectively and make high-quality decisions. A helper and enabler whose goal is to support others as they pursue their objectives.
The topics or subjects under discussion at any meeting. Also referred to as the task, the decisions made, or the issues explored.
The structure, framework, methods, and tools used in interactions. Also refers to the climate or spirit established, as well as the style of the facilitator.
An action or set of actions that aims to improve the functioning of a group.
A large group session held to share the ideas developed in separate subgroups.
A set of rules created by group members with which they mutually agree to govern themselves.
A collection of individuals who come together to share information, coordinate their efforts, or achieve a task, but who mainly pursue their own individual goals and work independently.
A collection of individuals who are committed to achieving a common goal, who support each other, who fully utilize member resources, and who have closely linked roles.
A detailed step-by-step description of the tools and techniques used to bring structure to conversations.
A collaborative enterprise, frequently involving research or design, that is carefully planned to achieve a particular aim.
A series of actions taken by a process owner to identify, analyze, and improve existing processes within an organization to meet new goals and objectives.
A production practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination. Basically, lean is centered on preserving value with less work.
A business management strategy that seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects or errors and minimizing variability. A Six Sigma process is one in which 99.99966 percent of the products manufactured are statistically expected to be free of defects (3.4 defects per million).
If you look up the word facilitator in the dictionary, you'll see it described as someone who helps a group of people understand their common objectives and assists them to achieve these objectives without taking a particular position in the discussion.
This role basically did not exist until the middle of the last century, when theorists in the emerging field of behavioral science identified the need for a leadership style that contributed structure to complex group interactions instead of direction and answers.
The work of these behavioral pioneers led to the emergence of a new and important role in which the person who manages the meeting no longer participates in the discussion or tries to influence the outcome. Instead, he or she stays out of all conversations in order to focus on how the meeting is being run. Instead of offering opinions, this person provides participants with structure and tools. Instead of promoting a point of view, he or she manages participation to ensure that everyone is heard. Instead of making decisions and giving orders, he or she supports the participants in identifying their own goals and developing their own action plans.
Facilitation is a leadership role in which the decision-making power resides in the members. This frees the facilitator to focus on creating a climate of collaboration and provide the group with the structure it needs to be effective.
Instead of offering solutions, facilitators offer group members tools they can use to develop their own answers. Facilitators attend meetings to guide members through their discussions, step-by-step, encouraging them to reach their own conclusions.
Rather than being a player, facilitators act more like referees. They watch the action, more than participate in it. They help members define their goals. They ensure that group members have effective rules to guide interaction.
They provide an orderly sequence of activities. They keep their fingers on the pulse and know when to move on or wrap things up. They keep discussion focused and help group members achieve closure. They do all of this while remaining neutral about the topics under discussion so as not to interfere with the decision-making authority of the group.
Facilitators make their contribution by:
conducting background research to understand the needs of the group and what they hope to achieve
helping the group define its overall goal, as well as its specific objectives
preparing a detailed agenda that includes process notes describing how the interaction will unfold
helping the group create rules of conduct that create an effective climate
making sure that assumptions are surfaced and tested
questioning and probing to encourage deeper exploration
offering the right tools and techniques at the right moment
encouraging participation by everyone
guiding group discussion to keep it on track
making accurate notes that reflect the ideas of members
helping members constructively manage differences of opinion
redirecting ineffective behaviors
providing feedback to the group, so that they can assess their progress and make adjustments
helping the group to achieve closure and identify next steps
helping the group access resources from inside and outside the group
providing a means for evaluation of the meeting and seeking improvements
Facilitators bring structure to interactions to make them productive. They plan carefully and then adapt as things unfold. For more on how facilitators organize and manage their work, refer to Chapter Three on the stages of the facilitation process.
Facilitators operate by a core set of principles. At the heart of these is the belief that two heads are better than one and that, to do a good job, people need to be fully engaged and empowered.
All facilitators firmly believe that:
people are intelligent, capable, and want to do the right thing
groups can make better decisions than any one person can make alone
everyone's opinion is of equal value, regardless of rank or position
people are more committed to the ideas and plans that they have helped to create
participants can be trusted to assume accountability for their decisions
groups can manage their own conflicts, behaviors, and relationships if they are given the right tools and training
if well designed and honestly applied, can be trusted to
In contrast to the traditional model of leadership, in which the leader is viewed as the most important person in the room, the facilitator puts the members first. Members decide the goals, make the decisions, implement action plans, and hold themselves accountable for achieving results. The facilitator's contribution is to provide structure and offer the right tools at the right time.
Facilitating is ultimately about shifting responsibility from the leader to the members, from management to employees. By playing the process role, facilitators encourage group members to take charge.
Neutral, third-party facilitators are asked to design and lead a wide variety of meetings:
strategic planning retreats
sessions to clarify objectives and create detailed results indicators
regular staff meetings
program review/evaluation sessions
meetings to negotiate team roles and responsibilities
problem-solving/process improvement sessions
meetings to share feedback and recommend improvements
focus groups for gathering input on a new program or product
The two words you'll hear over and over again in facilitation are process and content. These are the two dimensions of any interaction between people.
The content of any meeting is what is being discussed: the task at hand, the subjects being dealt with, and the problems being solved. The content is expressed in the agenda and the words that are spoken. Because it's the verbal portion of the meeting, the content is obvious and typically consumes the attention of the members.
Process deals with how things are being discussed: the methods, procedures, format, and tools used. The process also includes the style of the interaction, the group dynamics, and the climate that's established. Because the process is silent, it's harder to pinpoint. It's the aspect of most meetings that's largely unseen and often ignored, while people are focused on the content.
When the person leading the meeting offers an opinion with the intent of influencing the outcome of discussions, he or she is acting as the “content leader.” When a facilitator offers tools and focuses on managing member interaction, he or she is acting as the “process leader.”
The taskThe subjects for discussionThe problems being solved The decisions madeThe agenda items The goals
The methods How relations are maintained The tools being used The rules or norms set The group dynamics The climate
It is important to note that, while facilitators are totally unassertive about the content under discussion, they are very assertive in the way they manage the process elements. This assertiveness is needed to deal with conflict, make interventions, and help the group when it gets stuck.
At first glance, facilitation may seem like a rather vague set of “warm and fuzzy,” people-oriented stuff. But as you'll learn, it's actually a highly structured and assertive set of practices with a rich set of tools and techniques. Once you understand these techniques and learn how to apply them, you'll immediately see substantial improvement in the overall performance of any group.
As a facilitator you'll have an extensive set of tools at your disposal. These tools fall into two categories: the core practices and the process tools.
The core practices, which are rooted in the manner, style, and behavior of the facilitator, include:
keeping on track
managing the climate
The process tools, which are structured activities that provide a clear sequence of steps, include:
systematic problem solving
Understanding each of these tools and how to use them is a vital part of any facilitator's job.
Regardless of the type of meeting they're managing or the specific process tool being used, facilitators make constant use of the following core practices. Of these, the first five are foundational. These are in constant use during facilitation, regardless of what other tools are also deployed.
Facilitators stay neutral on the content.
Staying neutral on the content of discussions is the hallmark of the facilitator role. Facilitators are neutral outsiders who have no stake in the outcome of discussions. They are there only to provide structure and create a climate of collaboration. When facilitators ask questions or make helpful suggestions, they never do this to impose their views or impact decisions.
They listen actively.
This is listening to understand more than to judge. It also means using attentive body language and looking participants in the eye while they're speaking. Eye contact can also be used to acknowledge points and prompt quiet people to take part.
They ask questions.
Questioning is the most fundamental facilitator tool. Questions can be used to test assumptions, probe for hidden information, challenge assumptions, and ratify for consensus. Effective questioning encourages people to look past symptoms to get at root causes.
They paraphrase continuously.
Facilitators paraphrase continuously during discussions. Paraphrasing involves repeating what group members say. This lets people know they are heard and acknowledges their input. Paraphrasing also lets others hear points for a second time and provides an opportunity to clarify ideas.
They summarize discussions.
Facilitators summarize ideas shared by members at the end of every discussion. They do this to ensure that everyone heard all of the ideas that were put forth, to check for accuracy, and to bring closure. Facilitators also summarize in the midst of discussions to catch everyone up on the conversation and refresh the topic during conversation lulls. Summarizing is also useful to restart a stalled discussion, since it reminds group members of the points already made and often sparks new thinking. In many decision-making discussions, consensus is created when the facilitator gives the group a clear and concise summarization of key points.
In addition to the five techniques described above, there are several additional facilitator techniques that make up the core practices.
Facilitators record ideas. Groups need to leave meetings with complete and accurate notes that summarize discussions. Facilitators quickly and accurately record what's being said. Whether they are using a flip chart or electronic whiteboard, they are careful to use the key words that people suggest and organize the notes into related groupings. There is more on recording group ideas later in this chapter.
They synthesize ideas. Facilitators ping-pong ideas around the group to ensure that people build on each other's ideas. In non-decision-making conversations they do this to build conversation and create synergy. In decision-making conversations they ping-pong ideas to allow each person to add his or her comments to the points made by others until they have synthesized a statement everyone can live with.
They keep discussions on track. When discussions veer off track or when people lose focus, facilitators notice this and tactfully point it out. They place a “parking lot” sheet on a wall and offer participants the option of placing extraneous topics on it for later discussion.
They test assumptions. Facilitators outline the parameters, empowerment levels, and other constraints that apply so that they are understood by all. They are always on the lookout for situations in which misunderstandings are rooted in differing assumptions and probe carefully to uncover these.
They manage the group climate. Facilitators help members set behavioral norms or group guidelines. Then they intervene tactfully when they notice that members are not adhering to their own rules. (See later chapters for more on both norms and making interventions.)
They make periodic process checks. This involves tactfully stopping the action whenever group effectiveness declines. Facilitators can intervene to check whether the purpose is still clear to everyone, the process is working, and the pace is effective or to find out how people are feeling.
They give and receive feedback. Facilitators always have their fingers on the pulse of the group and offer their perspective to help the group make adjustments. They are also receptive to input and invite members to point out anything that needs adjustment. At the end of each meeting, facilitators create mechanisms such as written evaluations or exit surveys to capture feedback for ongoing improvement.
Facilitation was created to be a neutral role played by an unbiased outsider. The role of this neutral third party is solely to support group decision making without exerting influence over the outcome. Facilitators, therefore, always focus on process and stay out of the content.
One of the most difficult things about learning to facilitate is staying within the neutrality boundary because facilitators often have insight into the subject under discussion. The issue of neutrality is further complicated by the fact that a lot of facilitation isn't done by disinterested outsiders, but by someone from within the group who has a real stake in the outcome.
This question of whether or not leaders can facilitate their own teams is so significant that an entire chapter of this book has been devoted to exploring this issue. For now, the discussion of neutrality will focus on the assumption that the facilitator is indeed a third-party outsider.
It's important to note that staying neutral is a challenge, even for neutral outsiders! Sometimes group members say things that are obviously incorrect or they miss important facts. In these instances it's very difficult for the facilitator to hold back and maintain body language that hides a bias.
Regardless of the situation, it's important to understand that neutrality can still be maintained by applying specific techniques.
Even though the role is dispassionate, it's important to realize that facilitators don't want to enable bad decision making! If the facilitator has an idea that might help the group, he or she should not withhold it.
If the facilitator thinks that the group is overlooking an idea, the facilitator can introduce that idea as a question that sparks thought. For example, if the group is spinning its wheels because they can't afford new computers, the facilitator can ask: “What are the benefits of renting new computers as an interim strategy?”
Through questioning, group members are being prompted to consider another option, but are not being told whether to accept or reject it. The facilitator's neutrality is maintained because he or she hasn't told the group what to do and decision-making control remains with the members.
If the facilitator has a good content idea that the group should consider, it's within the bounds of the neutral role to offer the group a suggestion for their consideration. He or she might say: “I suggest that you consider researching the pros and cons of renting computers.” Although this sounds like the facilitator has strayed into content, it's still facilitative if the content sounds like an offering, not an order. As with questioning, making suggestions doesn't violate neutrality as long as group members retain the power to decide.
If the group is about to make a serious mistake and all of the questioning and suggesting in the world has not worked to move them in the right direction, facilitators sometimes step out of their neutral role to share information that will move the group to a higher-quality decision.
In these rare cases, it's important for the facilitator to clearly indicate that he or she is stepping out of the role and explain that he or she is now playing a content role. The facilitator might say: “I need to step out of the role of facilitator for a minute and tell you that the office location you're considering is not close to any of the rapid transit corridors planned for the next twenty years.”
Since leaping in and out of the facilitator role causes confusion and distrust, taking off the neutral hat should be done very selectively. This role shift is justified when the facilitator is convinced that the group is in danger of making a major mistake and he or she has information or advice that will save the day.
There's also a huge difference between a neutral, external party asking a question or making a suggestion and a leader who's facilitating doing these things. When an outsider asks questions or offers a suggestion, members feel helped in their decision-making process. When their leader does the same thing, members likely hear an order.
When a group member says something that seems like an excellent point, facilitators can be tempted to congratulate that person by saying “Good point” or “Great idea.” Unfortunately, this is a sure way to lose your neutrality, since it makes it appear that you're straying into the content and trying to influence the group's opinion. To avoid this common pitfall, substitute the word “Okay” for “Good point.” “Okay” allows you to acknowledge that you heard the point, but does not indicate any approval on your part.
Whenever you're tempted to say “I like that idea,” substitute “Do the rest of you like that idea?” After all, you're not there to judge member suggestions, but to help them do that.
Another of the dilemmas related to neutrality concerns whether or not to say “We” and include oneself in the conversation. Here is the simple rule:
Include yourself and say “We” when referring to the process:
“How are we doing on time?”
“Does this approach we're taking seem to be working?”
“Do we need a break?”
Use “You” when referring to the content:
“Let me read back what you've said so far.”
“Here are the issues in the order you ranked them.”
“Are you satisfied that this has been discussed enough?”
There is a common misconception that taking a neutral stance on the content of meetings means being passive. This is far from the case. In fact, if you operate on the belief that your role is basically unassertive, you'll be in danger of ending up as nothing more than a note taker or scribe, while conflicts rage around you.
While it's true that facilitators should be non-directive on the topic being discussed, they have to be assertive on the process aspects of any meeting. It's within the parameters of the facilitator role to decide all aspects of the meeting process, including informing members how agenda items will be handled, which discussion tools will be used, who will speak in which order, and so on.
This doesn't mean that you shouldn't collaborate with members on the session design. Gaining member input is always a good idea since it enhances buy-in. It does mean that process is the special expertise of the facilitator. In matters of process, it's appropriate for you to have the final say.
Just how appropriate and necessary a high level of assertiveness is can be best understood when a group becomes dysfunctional. In these situations, facilitators need to be firm and act like referees, stepping into the fray to restore order to the proceedings.
A high level of assertiveness on process is especially critical whenever there are personal attacks or other rude behavior. All facilitators are empowered to interrupt and redirect individuals so that their interactions become more appropriate. In the section on facilitating conflict, you'll find more on techniques and language you can use for making interventions and managing stormy meetings. By following these practices, you'll be behaving in a way that's anything but passive.
Some assertive actions facilitators take, when the situation warrants it, include:
insisting on meeting norms
calling on quiet people
stopping to check on the process
calling time-outs and breaks
intervening to stop rude behavior
asking probing questions
adjusting the meeting design
insisting on closure
insisting on action plans
implementing evaluation activities
A specific style of language has evolved as a part of facilitation. These techniques are especially important when it comes to commenting on people's behavior without sounding critical or judgmental. The main language techniques are:
Paraphrasing involves describing, in your own words, what another person's remarks convey.
“Do I understand you correctly that . . . ?”
“Are you saying . . . ?”
“What I'm hearing you say is . . . .”
Facilitators paraphrase continuously, especially if the discussion starts to spin in circles or if the conversation becomes heated. This repetition assures participants that their ideas are being heard.
Reporting behavior consists of stating the specific, observable actions of others without making accusations or generalizations about them as people, or attributing motives to them.
“I'm noticing that we've only heard from three people throughout most of this discussion.”
“I'm noticing that several people are looking through their journals and writing.”
By describing specific behaviors, facilitators give participants information about how their actions are being perceived. Feeding this information back in a non-threatening manner opens the door to improve the existing situation.
Descriptions of feelings consist of specifying or identifying feelings by naming the feeling with a metaphor or a figure of speech.
“I feel we've run out of energy.”
“I feel as if we're facing a brick wall.”
“I feel like a fly on the wall.”
(Figure of speech)
Facilitators always need to be honest with group members by saying things like: “I feel exhausted right now” or “I feel frustrated.” This lets other people know that it's okay for them to express feelings.
Perception checking is describing another person's inner state in order to check whether that perception is correct.
“You appear upset by the last comment that was made. Are you?”
“You seem impatient. Are you anxious to move on to the next topic?”
Perception checking is a very important tool. It lets the facilitator take the pulse of participants who might be experiencing emotions that get in the way of their participation.
One of the most important mental models in facilitation is that conversations fall into two distinct categories: they are either decision making in nature or not. Each type of conversation has distinct features that dictate the techniques used to manage it. Facilitators who understand these two distinct conversation structures can use them to structure and manage discussions.
Non-decision-making conversations are those in which group members simply share ideas or information. Examples of non-decision-making conversations include:
a brainstorming session in which ideas are generated but not judged
an information-sharing session in which group members describe their experiences or update each other
a discussion aimed at making a list of individual preferences or key factors in a situation
During non-decision-making discussions, members state ideas, but there is no element of judging or ranking the ideas. The facilitator simply records ideas as they are presented without the need to check with others to test their views.
Decision-making conversations are those discussions in which group member ideas are combined to arrive at either an action plan or a rule that all members must feel they can implement or accept.
Facilitators need to manage decision-making conversations differently because they need to help members arrive at a shared agreement. This involves clarifying ideas, ping-ponging ideas around so others can add their thoughts, making summary statements that summarize the discussion, and recording the group opinion.
In non-decision-making conversations facilitators record what individuals think. In decision-making conversations they record what the group thinks. In summary:
Conversations in which no action plans or norms are identified or ratified Information sharing
Discussions in which action plans or norms are identified and ratifiedInteractive discussions where members arrive at a decision
Facilitator records individual ideas
Facilitator records group opinion
One-way dialogueFacilitator records individual ideas
Interactive dialogueFacilitator records group opinion
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