Facilitation Skills


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Learn techniques to effectively facilitate a group.

By the end of this lesson you will be able to:

  • Recall the stages of group development;
  • Apply techniques for effective group facilitation; and,
  • Apply strategies to manage facilitation challenges.End of text

The Role of a Facilitator

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A facilitator serves a group by helping them bring about a certain outcome or objective.

An effective facilitator will create and maintain the flow of information and communication between group members, guiding the thoughts, opinions, ideas, and actions of the various members towards a consensus. A facilitator is a leader and must know his/her leadership style and be ready to implement leadership techniques during group sessions. In addition, a facilitator should develop communication skills in order to best communicate with a variety of different people.

A facilitator and a trainer have many things in common, but it is important to remember that these are two very different roles. A trainer focuses on providing information to an audience, and a facilitator is drawing information from peers. As such, some of the strategies and tactics a facilitator will use are different than those a trainer would use.

Leaders are often authoritarian, participative, or delegative.

There are three basic leadership styles: Authoritarian, Participative, and Delegative.

  • An authoritarian leader has clear expectations for what needs to be done, how, and when. Typically, an authoritarian leader would make decisions independently from the group and create space between him/herself and the group.
  • A participative leader offers frequent guidance to subordinates, participates in the group, and asks for a lot of input from the group members. He/she would retain the final say over decision-making.
  • A delegative leader offers little guidance, leaving the decision-making up to the group members. He/she tends to exert low levels of control.

Successful facilitators will rely on the participative and delegative styles. Leaders who tend to be authoritarian must learn to step outside of their comfort zone and pull in techniques from other leadership styles.

Effective communication is a key component of group facilitation.

Strong communication skills are crucial to being an effective facilitator and can be strengthened and developed. Remember that the primary job of the facilitator is to foster the flow of information and communication between participants. The implementation of these skills must be in service to the objective of fostering two-way communication amongst group members.

  • Movement and gestures: use deliberate and useful movement to emphasize a point or communicate that you are listening. Use your own style of movement to engage with the audience, and avoid random pacing, twitching, or other distracting movement. Watch yourself in a mirror to learn what your natural gestures are and consider what they might communicate to the group.
  • Facial expression: your face can communicate a great deal, such as moods, emotions, opinions, and how you want your audience to react. Smile frequently, and use other facial expressions specifically and deliberately.
  • Eye contact: eye contact can help you gauge the interest of the group. To make it simple, divide the room into three parts, and meet the eyes of one individual in each section for long enough to register the color of their eyes. In addition, if someone is talking, make eye contact with them, to show that you are paying attention.
  • Responding: when responding to comments of participants, there are four basic strategies. Door-opening invites the person to elaborate on what he/she is saying – this shows interest and discourages personal judgments about the information. Probing raises a topic related to what the individual is explaining, and ask him/her to elaborate on that topic. Perception-checking involves paying attention to non-verbal cues that can communicate feelings about a subject. Paraphrasing restates what the individual has just said, in your own words, in order to verify the message.End of text

The Group

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Understand the roles of group members.

Everyone is different, and everyone will bring different skills and assets to your group. But there are several types of individuals who often show up in groups, and play specific roles that help the group move forward, find consensus, and achieve the goals.

  • Instigator: there is typically someone in the group who motivates. Someone who says “What if? Why not? Let’s go!” can be instrumental in pushing the group forward and taking the next steps. They provide energy and excitement, which is often shared by the rest of the group.
  • Cheerleader: everyone needs fans, and the Cheerleader is yours. This person will encourage and motivate the other members of the group, providing emotional support and a reason to keep going.
  • Doubter: someone who doubts can sometimes be negative and bring others down, but they can also serve as the voice of reason. Are your group’s ideas too big? Too extreme? Is the group unlikely to succeed? The Doubter can see these problems, point them out, and help the group avoid disaster.
  • Taskmaster: this group member demands that people get things done. Deadlines need to be met, goals need to be reached, and this person will help the group do just that. They are loud, and demanding – but because of their persistence, your group will accomplish much!
  • Connector: a group can almost always use allies, partners, or new members, and the Connector can help find them. Drawing from a large network or engaging personality, this person helps build a community within and around your group.
  • Example: knowledge and experience are the key components of an Example. They have been places, seen things, and can provide a rounded and keen perspective in many different areas.
  • To read more about the different types of group personalities, visit: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jessicahagy/2012/07/17/the-6-people-you-need-in-your-corner

    Know the members of your group.

    If possible, get to know the members of your group a little bit before meeting. Learn their name, their organization, their experience and education – these things, at least, will give you a head start into understanding the group and interactions within. Once everyone is gathered, take the time to get to know them a little bit more through discussion and knowledge-sharing. Prepare questions in advance, related to the meeting topic or about information you think is important. Everyone likes to share their opinions, so encourage them to share their experiences and knowledge with the rest of the group. Find out where their knowledge areas and strengths are, and use them to supplement the rest of the conversation. Ask questions, incite friendly debates, and solicit hypothetical comments to engage the group members in discussion.End of text

The Group Process

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First the group will form.

Forming is the first phase in the group development process. Members will find each other and come together or identify and reach out to new partners, while expressing the desire to be accepted by other members of the group. During this stage, serious conflicts are typically avoided as everyone gets to know each other and develops routines, organization, and responsibilities. During this stage of the process, the facilitator establishes connections, purpose, and expectations for the group. The facilitator introduces people, learns and remembers new faces, and fosters warmth and respect among the members of the group.

Second, the group will storm.

The storming process involves a flurry of ideas all being presented and considered simultaneously. Group members are excited about the new process, and as a result, conflicts begin to arise. The storming stage involves negotiating roles, resolving issues, and determining leadership models. Depending on how aligned the group members are on the vision and mission, this phase can be very short or very long.

The facilitator’s role is to guide the group members through conflicts, help them resolve issues, and move into the norming stage.

Third, the group will norm.

During the norming stage, the group members settle into their roles as team members and have come together with one, defined goal. Some individuals may give up their own ideas and agree with others as the negotiation process moves forward. In order to achieve success, all group members must be committed to the success of the vision.

As the group moves from storming to norming, sometimes a new leader emerges from within the group. In the Army OneSource initiative, having a leader from the group takeover for the field staff is a critical step towards having a sustainable structure that is not dependent on the AOS program for survival. In this case, the facilitator should step back and let them lead, making sure to be available and prepared to help identify and resolve issues. If a leader does not emerge, than the facilitator’s role as a leader will begin to stabilize.

Fourth, the group will perform.

In the performing stage, the group is able to function as a unit and find ways to get the job done, overcome obstacles, and ultimately, achieve success. This stage can also be characterized as a time without inappropriate conflict or a need for external supervision.

The facilitator’s role during the performing stage is to help the group reflect on performance, progress, and outcomes.

Finally, the group will adjourn.

When the group has completed its goals and achieved its mission and vision, then it will adjourn. This is a time of separation, wrapping things up, and completion.

The facilitator should strive to take responsibility for tying up loose ends, maintaining contact with the various members of the group, and initiating any post-group contact.End of text

Facilitation Challenges

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Know the basic strategies for responding to challenges.

There are a few basic challenges that can happen in any group, such as getting off track, lacking focus, or having disagreements among group members. Facilitators should stay out of conflict. As the facilitator, it is your responsibility to guide the conversation back on track, encourage group members to work out their differences calmly and respectfully, and remind everyone why they came together.

Challenging participants can impact the functionality of a group.

There are a number of types of individuals that often cause stress for group facilitators. Too much talking, not enough talking, bad attitudes, and more, can impact the functionality of the group and its potential chances for success.

  • The Dominator tends to take over the group with his/her own agenda. As the facilitator, make sure everyone gets a chance to speak, and guide the discussion back on track. Be prepared to suggest meeting later to discuss the Dominator’s ideas, and remind everyone of the purpose of the meeting. In some cases, a facilitator may need to politely but firmly interrupt this person, thank them for their contribution, and turn the conversation over to another member of the group.
  • The Neutralizer shoots down ideas and stymies the process of coming to consensus by focusing on negative impossibilities. As the facilitator, be persistent in reminding everyone of what you are there to do, and guide the conversation towards positive outcomes.
  • The Reluctant Participant often is unwilling to participate, whether because he/she is shy and quiet or simply doesn’t wish to be there. Encourage equal participation by calling on him/her by name, making eye contact, and smiling to increase their comfort. Find ways to involve him/her in the discussion, but don’t force participation as that could increase tension in the group. In some cases, this may be a cultural difference around how individuals and groups interact, or related to the individual’s personality. Incorporate other opportunities for these individuals to provide their feedback, either one-on-one or in written comments.
  • The Wanderer rambles on and frequently gets sidetracked by tangents or detours. Although he/she might be enthusiastic, these detours can be more damaging than helpful. Remind everyone of why you are there, and then suggest meeting another time to discuss the Wanderer’s ideas. It may be necessary to interrupt them – be prepared to do so.
  • The Disruptor thinks that he/she has better places to be. He/she may do other things during the training such as answering emails or texts, exiting frequently to take calls, reading non-course material, or trying to complete other work. A Disrupter may also be someone who whispers or talks out of turn, interrupting or distracting other participants. As the facilitator, begin by ignoring the behavior, but if the behavior is getting out of hand, stop it by using non-verbal cues or discussing it with the individual during breaks.
  • The Expert is an expert on everything, constantly offering his/her perspective, ideas, and suggestions, with little regard for others – the classic know-it-all. To respond to an Expert, acknowledge his/her experience, draw from the experience, and then defer to the rest of the group for further input.End of text


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Group facilitation can be both challenging and rewarding.

Now that you have completed this lesson you will be able to:

  • Recall the stages of group development;
  • Apply techniques for effective group facilitation; and,
  • Apply strategies to manage facilitation challenges.End of text

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