A Group Facilitator is someone who helps groups to identify and achieve their goals. The purpose of group facilitation is to help group members access their inner resources in order to make effective decisions and take responsibility for their actions.
Groups typically bring in a facilitator when they face a complex issue that needs the input of a number of people, and when it’s important that the discussion be structured and orderly. During a group facilitation event, decision-making power resides with the members. This frees the facilitator to focus on providing the structure needed to ensure a thorough and comprehensive thought process.
Since group members best understand their own circumstances and needs, Group Facilitators focus their attention on the process. Instead of offering solutions, Group Facilitators offer participants process tools so that they can develop their own answers. Rather than being a player, Group Facilitators act more like referees: watching the action, more than participating in it. They help members define their goals. They ensure that group members have effective rules to guide their interactions. They provide an orderly sequence of activities. They keep their finger on the pulse, and know when to move on or wrap things up. They keep discussion focused and help group members achieve closure.
The following is a list of typical Group Facilitator activities:
- Conducting background research to understand the needs of the group and what they hope to achieve.
- Creating detailed meeting design notes to guide discussions.
- Helping the group define its overall goal, as well as its specific objectives.
- Preparing a detailed agenda that includes process notes detailing how the interaction will unfold.
- Helping the group create rules of conduct that encourage effective interactions.
- Making sure that assumptions are surfaced and tested.
- Questioning and probing to stimulate deeper exploration.
- Offering the right tools and techniques, as they’re needed.
- Encouraging participation by everyone.
- Guiding group discussion to keep it on track.
- Making accurate notes that reflect the ideas of members.
- Helping members constructively manage differences of opinion.
- Redirecting ineffective behaviors.
- Offering ways to move past roadblocks.
- Providing feedback to the group, so that they can assess their progress and make adjustments.
- Helping the group to achieve closure and identify next steps.
- Helping the group access resources both from inside and outside the group.
- Providing a means for evaluating meeting effectiveness and identifying improvements.
(Beckhard, 1969, Argyris, 1970, Shein, 1969)
Group Facilitators work with all sizes of groups, from the five members of an executive committee, to the ten members of a project team, to fifty citizens taking part in a public meeting. Some examples of the types of discussions Group Facilitators are asked to lead include team building, strategic planning, project launch, risk assessment, priority-setting, project updates, problem solving, process improvement, event debrief, conflict mediations, focus groups and community town hall meetings.
Group Facilitators plan carefully, but remain flexible, so that they can adapt as things unfold. They do all of this while remaining neutral about the topic under discussion. They strictly maintain their neutrality so as not to interfere with the decision-making authority of the participants.