Tips for new Facilitators


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Being asked to facilitate a group of people to accomplish structured outcomes to a meeting or all-day session can be daunting if it is your first time.. This is especially true when there are strong opposing views within the group. I used to facilitate many sessions for a large global company and worked with a few colleagues who did similar work in other regions. The resource I am sharing contains tips received from my colleagues when I got started as a facilitator years ago. In turn, I have made it available to other new facilitators that I have encountered over the years. Now you can also benefit from this. (see inserts below)

Some assumptions made for these tips to be relevant:

  • As facilitator your workshop/session is part of a process. The session includes exercises designed to produce outcomes that would benefit the team. There is at least one (could be more) manager who have a vested interest in a successful outcome and who will also attend your session. These same managers are aware of the team and session process and have provided input to you in terms of their vision and needs from the process. Note: there may be more than one manager if you are facilitating a group process involving members of a client organization too and which may also be attended by the manager from the client organization.
  • Your role is to facilitate the agreed process and to re-agree next steps should the process somehow not be able to continue as planned or new information/changes trigger you to recognize that a change in timing/agenda should be considered.

TIPS for Facilitators:

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How to stimulate participation by session participants?

  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Do a poll – where by raising hands people have to vote for one idea vs one or more other ideas
  • Count to 10 or more before you speak, let them bridge the silence with participation
  • When there is a question to you or a comment, defer it to the group – how does the group feel about this topic/question/statement?
  • Ask direct questions to specific participants whom you know (be sure) have experience in an area or on specific subject matters.
  • Summarize the points raised and ask the group to respond – agree or disagree? Correct or ..?
  • Divide them into pairs for a short discussion on a topic that pertains to what you just covered. (Gets them active after a period of perhaps monologue or exclusive dialogue.)
  • When the group seems lethargic consider an unscheduled short break
  • Do an impromptu energizing exercise (always have two or three of these in your back-pocket to employ when you see the need.
  • Expect some sluggishness in the period right after lunch for about an hour or so. Ensure your session design contains activities for this period – small groups etc.
  • Call it – sometimes a group is unresponsive, because everyone is thinking about an elephant in the room – some topic which should be discussed or settled which may not be on the agenda., but it is occupying the minds of everyone. If you know what it is, ask “Is ….. something we should discuss at this time?” if you do not know ask “Is there another issue that we should be covering at this time which may not be a scheduled topic?” [You would need to check in with the manager to ensure he wants to do it right away or later -schedule a specific date and time when he will deal with it. So call a short break if they tell you that something needs to be settled. To determine the”how” with the manager involved.)

These examples are not exhaustive, but they did help me out during those early years of facilitating sessions with groups and teams. I do trust they will do the same for you!

Cultural Differences Could Impact your Session

From a cultural perspective it is important to take note of cultural differences which may impact team and group dynamics during a facilitated session.

Some tips:

These examples could be tricky situations to navigate successfully, if you are not prepared to structure the process, the introduction and plan for the day in a way to ensure all participants see value in the time spent together. In some cases the answer may not be to have a facilitated session, but instead to have a series of meetings involving specific people from the participant groups. .

  • Some cultures expect the person in the front of the room to be an expert and if the facilitator asked questions of the group, his/her credibility may be at stake – in the mind of such a participant.
  • Valuing the goals that a sub-group brought to to the session, some cultures would expect that these goals may be more important than the goals set out for the session at the start.
  • Some cultures prefer to talk about practical examples during the session while others may prefer to talk about concepts. This could especially be apparent if a culture respects the resolution of disagreements privately instead of in a group context.
  • Physical activity or high-energy participant exercises may be seen as disrespectful or unsuitable behavior for senior level personnel in some cultures.
  • Asking questions or exploring concepts are not common across all cultures. Some participants from other cultures may find that approach alien and uncomfortable. They would expect the facilitator to simply give them the answers instead of asking the group to come up with the answer.

Use THIS LINK to read more about how to understand some cultural dimensions to consider as you plan to facilitate a meeting where there might be participants from multiple cultures.

Here is an example of how people from a Low Power Distance culture may differ from those coming from a High Power Distance culture in a facilitated or training sessions:

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