Using a facilitator is usually a good idea if you want to keep a meeting focused
and productive. Can meetings be effective without a facilitator? Of course.
Thousands of meetings take place every day without a designated facilitator.
However, the perils of meeting without a facilitator are many, and often lead
to a high level of frustration among participants. The dangers include drifting
from the agenda, lack of participation, running overtime and many more. It has
been my experience that once group members experience the benefits of well-facilitated
meetings, they'll never want to hold a meeting any other way.
two main facilitation options are to use an internal facilitator
or hire an outside professional. When should you use internal
person and when should you engage a professional facilitator
for your meetings? As with most questions, the easy answer
is, "it depends." For groups that meet regularly
on project teams, staff groups, task forces, committees, department
heads, etc., consider training several people in the skills
of facilitation and rotate the job. Several of my clients
have a cadre of trained people scattered throughout their
organizations who are available to facilitate anything from
a one-hour meeting to a full-day work session.
For meetings that have higher stakes, you may want to engage the services of
a professional facilitator. Such meetings might include retreats, idea generation
sessions, strategic planning and problem-solving meetings. A professional facilitator
can also help your group get "unstuck", identify and focus on key
issues, make decisions and move forward. Perhaps the number one reason people
hire professional facilitators is the objectivity and "distance" they
One of the biggest traps is for the group leader or senior person to assume
the role of facilitator. This is an invitation for a dysfunctional meeting.
Why? It's virtually impossible for the leader to be neutral on content issues,
which is a prime requisite for an effective facilitator. When group leaders
facilitate their own meetings, they often cross the line into control and advocacy
for their point of view. In turn, this will shut down participation from others.
Separating the leader and facilitator roles will help ensure that at least one
person is focused on group process issues, e.g., staying on agenda and keeping
Whether you decide to develop facilitators internally or utilize outside consultants/facilitators
(or both), knowing which skills to look for is important.
and Traits of Effective Facilitators
||Effective facilitators know the dynamics of
group process and are skilled in using techniques for keeping the group
task-focused, encouraging creative thinking, building consensus and keeping
all group members involved. A critical skill is the ability to create
and maintain a safe, open and supportive environment for all group members.
Another is being able to recognize and deal with disruptive behaviors.
||Skilled facilitators should always be "issue
neutral" during a meeting. They should never advocate a point of
view, regardless of their expertise and opinions on a given subject.
||Listening and observation skills are essential
for facilitators. They need to be listening and watching for nuance, content,
body language and other feedback as well as anything else that impacts
the group. They're always aware of a meeting on two levels simultaneously:
content (what's being discussed or decided) and process (how the group
||The best facilitators blend assertiveness with
tact and discipline with humor. They need to know how to effectively intervene
when the meeting is veering off the subject or otherwise not moving toward
accomplishing its purpose.
Growing Your Own Facilitators
For groups that meet regularly, it's smart to have several members act as
facilitator on a rotating basis. It's not enough to simply appoint people to
the job. Training of internal facilitators will ensure they know what is required
to keep a meeting focused and productive, and will give them opportunities to
practice these skills with an experienced facilitator/coach.
In the training workshops, novice facilitators should receive a lot of practice;
videotaped feedback is one of the most useful learning devices. After the training,
your newly minted facilitators should be given plenty of opportunities to facilitate
meetings so they can build their skills and confidence. It's important that
group members be understanding of new facilitators while they are honing their
Hiring Professional Facilitators
There are several places to look when you are in need of a professional
facilitator, either to work with you on an important meeting or to train people
in the skills of facilitation.
A natural choice might be a consultant who is familiar with your organization
but who also has considerable facilitating experience. Why? A consultant is
usually hired for his subject matter expertise and opinions. While this background
helps him understand group issues and terminology, the group's effectiveness
will probably be compromised unless the consultant is able to step into a neutral
role when facilitating.
While many facilitators also do other things, the demand is such that some
professionals are full-time facilitators. Most limit themselves to a few fields
or types of meetings in which they have developed competence. The safest bet
is to engage a facilitator who has experience in your industry or similar fields.
Where can you find a professional facilitator? One organization is the International
Association of Facilitators (www.iaf-world.org),
dedicated to the development of the facilitation profession. Its members include
professionals and internal facilitators from many fields. While it is not a
"booking agency" per se, the IAF may be a good place to start. The
Innovation Network (www.thinksmart.com) is another source for
facilitators, especially for idea generation sessions. Another organization,
the National Speakers Association (www.nsaspeaker.org)
has recently begun offering training workshops to its speaker/trainer members
in the art and skills of facilitation. Regardless of the resource you use to
find a professional facilitator, remember to always ask for references before
More Power to Your Group
The choice to use facilitators for your meetings, whether
homegrown (internal) or outside professionals, can pay great
dividends. At a minimum, you can expect shorter meetings that
are more focused and productive. Group leaders can put their
efforts toward substantive, while leaving process issues to
the facilitator. Over time, group members will learn the skills
of facilitation through "osmosis" and practice.
Such awareness can only help the group perform more effectively
in meetings and in any team endeavor.
the Charlie Hawkins
Charlie Hawkins (firstname.lastname@example.org) works
with businesses and nonprofits that want better results from
their meetings. He is the President of Seahawk Associates,
based in Sedona, AZ and is in frequent demand to facilitate
retreats, idea generation and strategic planning sessions.
He holds an MBA from Columbia University and has over 25 years
experience as a facilitator. Charlie is the author of First
Aid for Meetings, a complete resource for running effective
meetings (available at www.bn.com).
For more information, call 520.204.2511.