Lead without taking the reins

This month Tips for Training Success discusses techniques for effective facilitation.
Published: Sunday, April 01, 2007
Facilitation is a way of providing leadership without taking the reins. As a facilitator, your job is to get others to assume responsibility and to take the lead.  The facilitator’s job is to act as a referee.  That means you watch the action, more than participate in it.  You control which activities happen.  You keep your finger on the pulse and know when to move on or wrap things up.  Most important, you help members define and reach their goals. When facilitating, use the following core practices:
  • Stay neutral on content: Your job is to focus on the process role and avoid the temptation of offering opinions about the topic under discussion.  Use questions and suggestions to offer ideas that spring to mind, but never impose opinions on the group.
  • Listen actively: Look people in the eye, use attentive body language and paraphrase what they are saying.  Always make eye contact with people while they speak, when paraphrasing what they have just said and when summarizing their key ideas. Also use eye contact to let people know they can speak next and to prompt the quiet ones in the room to participate.
  • Paraphrase to clarify: This involves repeating what people say to make sure they know they are being heard, to let others hear their points of view a second time and to clarify key ideas.
  • Ask questions: This is the most important tool you possess. Questions test assumptions, invite participation, gather information, and probe for hidden points.  It will allow you to bypass the symptoms and get at the root causes.
  • Use the flip chart: It helps to keep track of emerging ideas as well as final decisions. Notes should be brief and concise. They must reflect what the participants have said, not your interpretation of what was said.
  • Keep time: Appoint a timekeeper to call out time markers, or use a timer to help keep the group on track.
  • Play Ping-Pong: Picture yourself standing at the flip chart with a Ping Pong paddle in one hand. If someone asks a question or makes a comment, redirect it by sending it back to someone else to answer or build on. This is a great way to get participants to interact with one another.
  • Test assumptions: Often you need to bring the assumptions people are operating under out, into the open and clarify them so that they are clearly understood by everyone.  Assumptions may need to be challenged before a group can explore new ground.
  • Synthesize: Don’t just record the ideas of participants, but get participants to comment and build on each others thoughts to ensure that the ideas recorded on the flip chart represents collective thinking. It can build consensus and commitment.
  • Hold up a mirror: It helps to tell the group how they look to you so they can interpret their actions and make corrections.
  • Summarize periodically: A great facilitator listens attentively to everything that is said, and then offers concise and timely summaries.  Summarize  when you want to restart a discussion that has come to a halt, or to end a discussion when things seem to be wrapping up.
  • Label sidetracks: Remember, it’s your responsibility to let the group know when they are off track. (i.e. “We are now discussing something that isn’t on our agenda. What does the group want to do?”)
  • Park it: At every meeting, tape a flip chart sheet to a wall to record all side track items. Later, these items can be reviewed for inclusion in a future agenda or later during the day. Parking lot sheets let you capture ideas that may be important later while staying on track.
  • Use the spell check button: Most people are nervous enough about writing on flip charts without having to worry that they are spelling every word correctly. You can relax everyone by drawing a spell check button at the top right corner of every slip sheet.  Tell participants that they can spell creatively, since pressing the spell check button automatically eliminates all errors.



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