What Happens During a Facilitation?

This is Part 4 of a short series on facilitation and its uses in organizations. To read the entire series from the beginning, start at the bottom of the Facilitation page of this site.

If you attend a meeting led by a professional facilitator, he or she is likely there because there is important work to be done. Organizations generally use outside facilitators when they are conducting high level planning, managing change, writing a mission and/or vision statement, or working through a highly charged issue.

The facilitator’s job is to run the meeting in a professional and neutral manner so that the participants can focus on the work at hand. During the meeting, the facilitator will generally do the following:

  1. Set up the room. Before participants arrive, the facilitator will usually arrange the furniture, set up any visual aids such as large notepads, work with catering to arrange food and drinks, and may even set out small toys and games for fiddling.
  2. Introduce the meeting agenda. The facilitator will start the meeting with an explanation of the day’s agenda. He or she may lead an icebreaker or other warm-up activity. There will probably be introductions and a reminder of where restrooms and other necessities are located. When attending a facilitated meeting, come prepared to get up and move, talk, and play along with all manner of activities!
  3. Help the meeting go smoothly. Depending on their level of involvement, the facilitator will be sure to keep the meeting progressing along the agenda, or alter the agenda as issues arise. He or she will help participants have an equal say, defuse emotional situations, summarize progress periodically, and generally be the referee and time keeper. This is the part of facilitating that is more art than science. This part of the job is what makes a facilitator effective or ineffective!
  4. Take notes. The facilitator is responsible for taking notes of the meeting highlights. There are many ways to do this. I’ve seen facilitators bring a colleague to write notes or write notes personally. I’ve also seen video or audio recording, picture taking, and the collection of any sticky notes or other written materials. No matter their method, a facilitator should leave with an accurate and complete record of the meeting and the decisions made.
  5. Verbally summarize the meeting. At the end of the meeting, the facilitator should summarize the events and decisions made throughout the day. Each participant should leave knowing what was accomplished and possibly the next steps in the process.

The end of the meeting is often the most crucial part of ensuring the ongoing success of the process. Before dismissal, any disagreements should be settled, or the participants should agree to table those issues. Ideally, everyone should leave feeling that their input was heard and considered and the group made the best choices possible based on the information they had.