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Facilitation Top 5

As any instructor will tell you, one of the best things about teaching is learning from your students.  It happens in some way, big or small, every time you get in front of people who are expecting to hear how to do it “right.” 

Of course, there is no “right” a lot of the time.  In my classes, for example, I instruct and inform, but I also facilitate discussions about the options, and the students decide what’s going to work for them.
This brings me to the recent Facilitation Skills Workshop class I taught.  In this class, we learn about different facilitation techniques and then the students do the work; they actually facilitate each of the 12 sessions throughout the class.

Maybe you are like many of the students in this class who are terrified of speaking in front of groups. Their hands shake, they sweat, and some have a hard time breathing.  This fear is not unlike other fears and there is often a visceral response.

It is amazing to watch those folks who are terrified of facilitating get up in front of a group and, with some preparation, tools, and guidance, actually help the group accomplish a goal.  It is enormously validating- for them, the participants, and me.

The last session of the 12 sessions is one in which the facilitator brings the class to consensus on the top 5 characteristics of a good facilitator.  My last class came up with the following Top 5 Characteristics of a Good Facilitator:

1.     Neutrality
The facilitator cares that the group achieves their goal in the session, but they don’t care what the results look like specifically.   

2.   Preparedness
A facilitator needs to be prepared for their session. Facilitation might look easy, but it is hard work. Taking time to understand the group and issues, as well as practice the skills and techniques to be used make for a far more effective facilitator and one who will be much more likely to help the group achieve its goals.

3.   Energetic
A facilitator needs to be neutral, but that doesn’t mean they should be comatose.  Bringing some energy to the session helps keep people focused and engaged. 

4.   Clear idea of Purpose/Agenda
A good facilitator needs to start with a clear understanding of the goal of the session and the tools they might use to achieve that goal.  In short, be flexible, but have a plan. 

5.   Positive
An effective facilitator makes the participants want to achieve the session objective.  Even if it’s addressing a problem, a positive tone will encourage participants to own their part of the outcome.

It wasn’t necessarily the list I would have come up with, although those are certainly things we talk about in the class.  As I sat in the back of the room watching them come to this conclusion together as a group, facilitated by one of the students, it was an interesting and, in some way, a teachable moment for me.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Andrea Brockmeier is the Client Solutions Director for Project Management at Watermark Learning.  Andrea is a PMP® as well as Certified ScrumMaster.  She has 20+ years of experience in project management practice and training. She writes and teaches courses in project management, including PMP® certification, as well as influencing skills. She has long been involved with the PMI® chapter in Minnesota where she was a member of the certification team for over eight years. She has a master’s degree in cultural anthropology and is particularly interested in the impact of social media and new technologies on organizations and projects.

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