Over the years I have experimented with a number of different facilitation styles and what follows is a summary of what I’ve learned.
1. The set up.
What goes on in the room, stays in the room. (Or, as Mick Jagger would say, what goes on tour, stays on tour!)
One of the fundamental rules for creating a trusted environment, so participants are confident to share in an open and honest way, is to make sure that whatever is spoken during a session stays in the room.
Whenever I work with a group I set this up at the very beginning and ask them for their commitment which they need to confirm vocally. A nod is not a commitment.
Getting this out verbally has the effect of communicating to the group that, as a facilitator, you’re serious about getting their full commitment to participating. This is important because the greater the participation, the more value for everyone involved.
2. Facilitation styles - proactive versus reactive.
There’s a skill in knowing when you need to guide a group proactively and when you need to sit back and let the session run itself.
Whenever I facilitate I ask myself who is doing most of the talking. If I’m talking too much then I’m not facilitating, I’m teaching which, while valuable, is not the purpose of the engagement. If the participants are talking too much and going ‘off-piste’ then it is time to step in as you risk losing the structure of the session and leaving with no clear outcomes.
3. Staying on topic.
People love to talk, often about themselves and their business stories. This can be useful – for example to break the ice – but if it starts to lead down a rabbit hole your job as a facilitator is to bring the conversation back on topic. A simple way to do this is to acknowledge one of the points that the speaker has made and then ask a question to the rest of the group linking their point to the topic.
4. Working with the same group on a regular basis.
One of the challenges of working with the same group over a period of time is that everybody gets used to everyone else and people take on roles within the group. Some are naturally more dominant than others, some hold back and the role of the facilitator is to recognise this and ensure that every participant has the confidence to contribute on an equal basis.
People also like to get comfortable quickly and often gravitate to the same seat as they sat in before and this can create stale
One of the tricks to avoiding this and ensuring the energy remains fresh, is to give the group an exercise and get them working in a different format, e.g. in pairs, and ask one of the pairs to present their findings to the group in a quick fire session. Sometimes people will share more openly on a 1:1 basis than in a group.
- Obtain verbal commitment from all participants to create a trusted environment for shared learning.
- Be aware of who is doing the most talking and be prepared to adapt your facilitation style accordingly.
- Stay on topic and don’t be afraid to interrupt if a narrative has gone off piste.
- Ensure that you keep the energy in the room fresh.