What makes for good facilitation?

Good facilitation helps a group achieve your purpose by hearing each other, coming to understandings, pooling your wisdom and making wise decisions.

The facilitator focuses on both purpose and process.

The purpose is what the group has agreed to discuss or make a decision around. It needs to be clear to everyone and to be owned by the group.  The process is the work the facilitator does to ensure the discussion flows well and participation is maximised.

We are so passionate about great working with groups that we have written a book about it! Authored by Groupwork Institute Co-founder Glen Ochre:

Getting Our Act Together: How to harness the power of groups Read more about this book

If you want to learn more about facilitation firsthand, get in touch for a chat about our services and training. Contact us here.

Purpose in facilitation

  • Keeping the group ‘on track’ – gently checking out with the group if what looks like a side track to you, is off the point.
  • Identifying and linking common themes – by listening for people saying the same thing in different ways we can link themes and help prevent the discussion going around in circles
  • Clarifying confusing statements – by reflecting back what we have heard, checking out if this is what they meant we can help the individual clarify their thinking and the issues become clearer.
  • Summarising/organising ideas – being able to succinctly summarise the main points, as you have heard them articulated by the group, is a great skill.  It can help clarify where the group is up to on an issue, identify where to focus next and save time.
  • Decision identification – in a decision making process it is important to recognise when the group seems like it is ready to make a decision, otherwise the discussion may go around in circles going over old ground.
  • Testing for agreement – when making decisions we need to seek specific agreement from the group with openness to some people still not being up to this point of agreement.

Process in facilitation

  • Getting group permission – it is important that people clearly understand the role of facilitator, and that the facilitator is at the ‘service of the whole group’. We need to have ‘permission’ from the group before we step into the role of facilitator. It is this ‘permission’ that gives us the right to facilitate the group.
  • Ensuring people hear each other – this is especially important when the group is discussing a complex, emotionally charged or controversial issue. It is hard for us to hear each other when we disagree or there are strong feelings attached.  The facilitator can slow things down, by naming that this is a ‘big’ topic. The facilitator can acknowledge both the content and feelings being expressed or specifically ask other people to reflect back what they hear another person saying.
  • Equalising participation – not everyone needs to participate to exactly the same level. However it is important that the air space is shared and that everyone gets a chance to contribute. Sometimes you may need to ask one person to hold on to a point they were going to make to give another person a chance to speak or finish what they were saying. You can ask to hear from people who have not spoken yet, or occasionally go around the whole group asking for everyone’s thoughts.
  • Pacing the session –If the group seems to be anxious about time and is rushing through an item being discussed, you can point this out and invite them to slow down.  If the group feels’ flat’ or the energy is low you might ask the group if others feel this ‘flatness’ and if so what might be causing it. Maybe there is a ‘ghost’ the group is afraid to talk about, or you may simply need a break or a quick energising activity.  As facilitator you don’t have to try and work out what is going on, you just need to name what you notice to the group.  They group is then responsible for deciding what to do.
  • Negotiating time adjustments – attaching times to each agenda item in a meeting or each segment in a group session can help manage time.  The group needs to understand and ‘own’ this and agree if you need to go over time. Everyone must consciously agree if a meeting is to go past the nominated time.
  • Identifying and acknowledging feelings – when people express feelings, verbally or non-verbally, associated with an issue these need to be gently acknowledged.  This lets the person know that we hear these feelings and that we are ok with them being expressed.
  • Interpersonal communication issues – when there seems to be some clash or unspoken tension between some people in the group which is affecting the group process, it is helpful to name these so they are brought into the open. Remember, the facilitator does not need to have an answer to the problem. The people involved or the group can work out what needs to be done.
  • Conflict – conflict in the group is probably the number one facilitator fear!  The first thing we need to do is get into our Wise One.  Again, we don’t need to know what to do about it and it’s not our responsibility to ‘fix’ it.  We need to name it (without blame or judgement) and then facilitate the group to decide what to do with it.
  • Soliciting feedback – it is useful to seek the group’s feedback from time to time during a meeting or group session, especially if things seem flat or off track. It is not a sign of failure to check out with the group how thing are going.  It is all part of being at the service of the group.  Experienced facilitators need to do this too.  Sometimes as the facilitator we can get a bit lost with the process or where things are up to.  Some people in the group are bound to have their head around it!
  • Evaluation – every group meeting should end with an evaluation.  This helps everyone in the group take some ownership of the group process. It informs us as facilitators so we can learn from the feedback and take this into account next time. It also helps prevent people going away from a session with unexpressed feelings about the session.

What Groupwork Institute facilitators do

We provide professional facilitation services for a wide range of challenges that your group or organisation would like to address, from conflict resolution to strategic planning.

We are also recognised as national leaders in training people in the art of facilitation. See our Facilitation Training Short Course which runs for 2 days, or our benchmarking, year-long qualification Advanced Group Facilitation.

Resources for facilitation and working with groups

Getting Our Act Together: How to harness the power of groups Read more about this book

Hot Spots and Tricky Bits – Facilitation Training DVD Read more about this DVD

Get in touch

We’re really friendly, compassionate and courageous, and we can help you with your groupwork.

Contact us to refresh your group and your contribution.