This article was kindly submitted to us by a writer for a corporate facilitation company. It sparked some lively debate among our team, regarding the differences between corporate and industrial facilitation approaches. The post will be published as-is, and then after, we want to highlight some nuances of industry-specific planning and areas that share commonalities across sectors.
– Jason Lavis
A Facilitator Definition
Facilitation styles vary from industry to industry, but generally, there are three different ones: delegating, exploratory, and directive. When the facilitator assigns attendees functions, roles, or tasks, that is the delegating style. A facilitator who asks questions about ideas and experience is using the exploratory style. Finally, one who gives instructions and information is directive. The best facilitators use a combination of the three approaches.
The word facilitation comes from ‘facile’ in Latin, which means ‘to make easy’. If we were to go by that definition, a facilitator works to make things easy for other people. Of course, this is a broad definition that would cover a host of other professions as well, including mediation and training. Defining this profession clearly can help create realistic expectations on the part of the client, the facilitator, and the group or organization he or she serves.
What Do Facilitators Do?
Facilitators help organizations or other groups of people understand, plan for, and achieve common goals. In the process, the facilitator doesn’t take a particular position; they remain neutral. Some facilitator tools can assist the organization or group in reaching an agreement on issues that have emerged during a meeting or that already existed.
Types of Facilitators
Business facilitators normally work for companies, but they may also assist other communities or groups. They do not enforce or even state an opinion on the subject of facilitation; their role is to make it easier for the group to make its own decision or find an answer. As conflicts between different management levels can emerge in this process, facilitators have to be very flexible. Facilitators also take measures to empower the groups they work with, increasing their degree of self-determination and autonomy so they are able to represent their interests responsibly.
Normally, facilitators are not experts in the company’s field of activity. For example, if your company works in the automotive industry, you shouldn’t expect the facilitator to possess specific knowledge in this field. Rather, he or she will draw on participants’ existing knowledge in the interaction and, if needed, facilitate access to training if it emerges that knowledge in a certain area is insufficient.
Facilitators can be appointed to help individuals in small and medium-sized groups solve specific tasks or work through a given problem.
No company can do without meetings. Ideally, these are an effective way to improve team dynamics, exchange information, brainstorm, and reach an agreement on important issues. Unfortunately, it’s all too often the case that executive and staff meetings fail to be productive. Facilitators help avoid this by using a variety of techniques to achieve optimal outcomes depending on the type of meeting.
Executive and board meetings benefit most from facilitators with experience in design and strategic planning to stimulate discussion and creativity. Meetings are structured so that groups remain focused on strategic factors, in particular, tendencies that could disrupt their sector or industry. With facilitation, clients find relevant and innovative solutions to address these tendencies.
Management meetings benefit from the facilitator’s team management and corporate experience to enhance team interaction. Team members can attain higher levels of productivity and engagement during meetings as a result.
Advantages of an External Facilitator
If your company doesn’t have any staff trained to work as strategic planning facilitators or you’ve never created an official plan for a meeting, you may find an external facilitator quite useful. He or she will bring a new, fresh perspective that participants in a meeting may not have, being too focused on the results. What is more, the staff involved in the planning process will find they can be honest and open with an external participant without fear of conflict with management or coworkers.
If your company is facing a series of issues and finding it difficult to arrive at an efficient strategy, an external facilitator can help you set appropriate targets and goals. Facilitators have one single responsibility – to offer you guidance in the planning process – and this process will have their full and undivided attention. Your employees have other duties and may not be as invested in this process as an outside consultant.
The Skills of a Good Facilitator
A good facilitator has a variety of different skills and isn’t easy to find. Basic skills include timekeeping, keeping a clear record of meetings, and following the agenda as agreed. More advanced skills are related to extensive knowledge of group dynamics, the ability to build conversation, the ability to paraphrase, to balance participation, and to empower reserved group members. A good facilitator augments group creativity because they have the skills to intervene effectively. They are always respectful of all participants and aware of the multiple layers of a human group’s reality.
If consensus or agreement on an issue cannot be reached, the facilitator helps participants in a meeting understand the factors dividing them. Successful facilitators also possess excellent problem-solving skills. They can enable group decision-making and structure plans and agendas to achieve optimal outcomes.
The Economic and Cultural Value of Facilitators
Facilitators are highly valuable where issues are controversial or complicated, where there are diverse perspectives and interests, or where a high degree of consensus, creativity, and collaboration are needed.
Engaging a professional facilitator is not faster or more cost-effective in the short term, particularly compared to the traditional approach of making and cascading policies, decisions, and plans from the top down.
If these policies, decisions, and plans aren’t achieving the desired results, it may be because the employees crucial to their success haven’t played an optimal role in the process. Down the line, an investment in a more effective, efficient, and inclusive process can save your company a lot of money.
Facilitators bring the additional advantage of familiarity with different work environments and cultures. Cultural differences can emerge as an obstacle in strategic planning and facilitators have the experience needed to help participants understand these and reach a consensus despite them.
What Should You Look for in a Facilitator?
The International Association of Facilitators (IAF) has six guiding principles for those looking for a specialist facilitator. According to IAF, competent facilitators plan appropriate group processes, build and maintain an inclusive environment, create collaborative client relationships, develop and sustain professional knowledge, guide the group to suitable and optimal outcomes, and model professional and positive attitudes. Evidence of these skills can be found in a facilitator’s resume, case studies, testimonials, or references from previous clients.
You may be looking for outside support to develop in-house competence and capacity to establish and facilitate processes to achieve long-term goals. In other words, you may need facilitation services for a longer period of time. If this is the case, look for experience in facilitator coaching or facilitation training as well.
Finally, take into account the magnitude of your tasks in terms of space, time, and the number of people involved. You might find it best to engage an organization with a broad network of associates in case your facilitator needs assistance from a coworker or a facilitator team. A participatory, multifaceted approach is something your company can only benefit from.
Facilitators in commercial industries may place a greater focus on promoting creativity and reconciling individual differences, while those in state or government organizations will fulfill the role of organizers and integrators. The most effective facilitators utilize a combination of these approaches.
Hi, Jason here again. Sylvia does a great job of covering some of the main concepts of facilitation. There are soft skills and techniques that would make a good facilitator across industry sectors for example:
- A great facilitator will focus on shared ideas raised during the workshop, not on historic mistakes or achievements.
- There’s an art to creating an atmosphere of energy and a meritocracy of input.
- Finding that balance of leading the meeting, but also creating a leaderless zone at the same time.
- Careful recording and the drawing out of action points is also an art. Anyone can find challenges and pitfalls, not everyone can crowdsource a robust plan and record it in a report.
Here’s a quick video where common best and worst practices are highlighted:
The lively debate:
From time to time, the topic of a facilitators competency comes into question. Some would argue that the best facilitators are able to get everyone together in harmony and that the expertise from the participants is the priority. It’s possible to envisage someone with great people skills, but without industry experience creating a great workshop. Imagine Tony Robbins facilitating a meeting at the sales department of a hardware distribution company. That would work, wouldn’t it? Would it matter if Tony has ever sold the same widgets as the team? Probably not.
An external facilitator has an advantage because they can treat people equally without fear of political consequence.
For industrial workshops, such as the ones in the oil and gas industry that Relentless Pursuit of Perfection host, we argue that a general facilitator won’t suffice. Can you imagine the same scenario with Tony facilitating a plan of action for a hazard and operability (HAZOP) study? What about Tony working with a bomb disposal team, as Phil Smith and the team at Critical Team Performance do? On balance, most would prefer to work with those that have had skin in the game and are seen as professional industry equals.
There are a few reasons that spring to mind for this rationale:
- Unlike the average office-based job, an oil rig is stressful for the mind and body – and dangerous, potentially deadly. Camaraderie and group focus is experienced by people who have taken the same risks and had the same stories to tell.
- A facilitator that holds workshops for different companies in the same industry, all over the world will often know answers to challenges that come up. They can absorb combined knowledge from all of the teams that they interact with.
- The notes recorded during the workshop and the post-workshop reports contain degree level, and often postgraduate-level science, knowledge and industry jargon. Have you ever tried to take notes about, and then write about something you know nothing about? What if lives depended on it all being accurate?
What do you think? What has been missed? Does an external facilitator need extensive personal experience in the same industry vertical? Perhaps you prefer an in-house person to lake lead on a workshop? Please comment below.
Sylvia Peters is a Collaborator for ‘Find A Facilitator’ and a mother of two.
She’s dedicated to bringing the most credible, experienced and personable facilitation to every meeting. In her free time, you will find her meditating and reading her favorite book.