Tag Archives: facilitation

Facilitation: The Good, Bad and Ugly

This is Part 6 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.

In a previous post in this series, Ann Emery asked me to share stories from successful (and not so successful) facilitations that I’ve taken part in.  When I thought about the many meetings I’ve participated in or led, I can only think of one that went kind of wrong (let’s keep the streak alive!), and that had more to do with the dynamics of the organization than the meeting topic or the facilitator. However, there was one that I led that had the potential to go wrong, but ended up going really well.

Here’s the background…

I was hired to help an organization do some planning. We had an initial session where I dutifully helped them write a vision statement, and then we scheduled another meeting to create a long range action plan. I began my background research, and uncovered some problems. Big problems. Going out of business problems!

I realized that long range planning was the last thing the org needed. What they really needed was their board to face up to the situation. I decided that instead of a planning meeting, I was going to confront them with their reality. This could have gone one of two ways:

  1. I get fired.
  2. The participants rise to the challenge.

Fortunately, the latter happened and we had a productive meeting. The org is by no means out of the woods yet, but they have taken some solid steps to define who they are, what they want to do, and how they can go forward in this time of crisis.

Now, it’s your turn to share. Do you have any stories of great or awful facilitators or facilitated meetings? Please disguise identities to protect the guilty, but give us the best (and worst) you’ve got!

photo by: b.frahm

The Report: How Does a Facilitation End?

This is Part 5 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.

After the meeting is over, you’ve walked off the donuts, and everyone has gone home, a facilitator’s job is not done. He or she is usually responsible for creating a written summary of the meeting. This summary should include:

  1. The initial research to prepare for the meeting
  2. A description of the meeting including date, time, location and participants
  3. The agenda
  4. Major points of discussion, any controversies, and any decisions the group reached
  5. Issues that were tabled for later discussion, with a description of the agreement on follow up
  6. Next steps

If the facilitator is involved in the larger work of the group, he or she may also include recommendations for action or further exploration and study. Ideally, the summary document should be descriptive enough so that every participant can understand their agreements and commitments and the organization can continue to move forward in its work.

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.

Prepare for a Facilitation in Three Steps

This is Part 3 of a series on facilitation and its uses in organizations. Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here.

Facilitators can come from inside or outside of an organization or group. The key in choosing a facilitator is to select someone with an impartial outlook. In my experience, it is pretty tough to remain detached from a decision-making process if you work with or belong to the group doing the deciding! Because of that, facilitators often volunteer or get hired from outside groups.

A lack of familiarity with the issues being discussed can make for a fresh perspective, but some knowledge is necessary to guide a conversation in a relevant direction. Any facilitator, whether from inside or outside the group, needs to perform three basic tasks to prepare for a productive session.

1) Background Research
If you are not already very familiar with the group and issue you will be facilitating, you will need to do some research. The objective of the research stage is to ensure that you design a facilitation session that addresses the real issue(s) the group is having, and uses structures and methods that are most appropriate to their needs.

There are several ways of gathering the information you will need. The most appropriate methods will depend on the time you have to prepare and the size of the group you are working with. One-on-one interviews work well with smaller groups. Online or written surveys are efficient for large groups. If you have a lot of time available, in-person observation is a good way to get a lot of contextual information, especially if you are working with the group on a process or procedural issue.

2) Agenda Development
The actual agenda for the session will often have to be developed in cooperation with (or at least get the approval of) the team that has scheduled the session. As the facilitator, you should draft an agenda the addresses the issue(s) you identified in the background research step. Depending on the needs of the group, you may schedule ice breakers in the morning, brainstorming during lunch, and an energizer in the afternoon.

After you’ve drafted the agenda, share it with the event organizers and ensure that it works with their own agendas and the time available. Some back and forth may occur and the organizers may request changes. Be accommodating, but don’t let their input bury an issue that you are sure is important to the ultimate resolution of the problem.

3) Physical Space Preparation
The physical space is very important in helping session participants get into the right mindset. As a facilitator, it is your job to arrive at the meeting space early to ensure that: chairs and/or tables are set up in a way that encourages interaction; all the needed supplies are available such as white board markers, flip charts, and post-its; all the AV equipment is working as needed; the temperature is appropriate for the level of activity the session will require; and any other detail that can possibly go wrong is anticipated!

Now that all the background work is complete, the real work fun begins.

What Does a Facilitator Do?

This is Part 2 a short series on facilitation and its uses in organizations. Part 1 describes the nature of facilitation here.

A facilitator is not a part of the decision-making group. He or she is also not the group leader, teacher or trainer. So what is the facilitator’s job?

In a nutshell, the facilitator guides the group through a decision-making process.

From start to finish, the facilitator is responsible for:

  1. Preparing for the session.
  2. Setting the agenda.
  3. Formulating questions for discussion.
  4. Keeping the conversation on track. This includes bringing to the forefront any side conversations, defusing any destructive conflict, and encouraging any constructive conflict.
  5. Taking notes throughout the session.
  6. Bringing the group to a conclusion and/or a resolution to the problem at hand.
  7. Summarizing the session after it is complete and distributing the summary to all participants.

What is Facilitation?

This is Part 1 of a short series on facilitation and its uses in organizations. As an evaluator, I sometimes use facilitation to help organizations plan and use the results of my work.

Over the past several years, facilitation has become a popular word and concept in organizations. We are asked to “facilitate” meetings or processes or introductions. It’s become a bit of a junk term, with unclear definitions. Just what does facilitation mean?

“Facile” is the root word of facilitation, and according to Merriam-Webster Online, a synonym for facile is “easy.” In other words, facilitation at its most basic means to “make easy.” In the context of organizations, it is a different thing than training, teaching, or managing.

The facilitator is not part of the group, but is tasked with helping the group come to a decision. This is key, because groups are much more likely to implement decisions when everyone in the group has a sense of buy-in and commitment to the decision. An equation you can use to describe facilitation is:


where ED=Effective Decision; RD=Right Decision; CD=Commitment to Decision.

Facilitation is a widely useful set of tools. In future posts I’ll be exploring ways to take these tools and apply them for organizational effectiveness, especially when you want to make changes.