Why do I keep yammering on about facilitation?

Gretchen Steenstra | 03.24.15
Topics: Project Management


Some years ago, I was first introduced to formal facilitation while working on a project at a client site (and I’ve been a promoter ever since – just check out my toolbox). The organization has in internal training program to provide formal project management and facilitation training to staff to strengthen the skills of project teams. I learned many useful tips for being part of a team with a formal facilitator leading a discussion.  

As I have developed my professional skills during my career, the most valuable have been skills to help people communicate with each other. I know this is a big cliché, but it’s true. I decided to take an in-depth course on this practice. I attended The Effective Facilitator course – it is one of the most practical courses I have attended.

What is the difference between a project manager, a business analyst, and a facilitator?

Aren’t they the same?

  • The focus of a facilitator is to help groups come to consensus and agreement. The facilitator does not have a stake in the outcome – simply manage the process for people to work together to find agreement.
  • Business analysts gather requirements for projects, analyze the needs, and develop solutions.
  • Project managers are the conductors who make sure they have a clear direction, the right resources for the project, and keep it moving.

For major projects, it is very helpful to have all three roles to support a project.

What does a facilitator DO?

A facilitator performs many functions – some listed below – that wouldn’t be fair to heap on another team member, especially since facilitators are, by nature and necessity, neutral.

  • Set up the meeting to ensure the group has the best opportunity for a successful meeting
  • Prepare the ground rules, agenda, and goals for the meeting
  • Work with a group to uncover all options
  • Work with a group to build agreement
  • A facilitator stands for the entire meeting (wear comfortable shoes!)
  • They do not contribute content or opinions
  • They write down EXACTLY what is said

WHY do we do this?

We have all been in meetings where a group of people is trying to make a decision and at the end of the meeting nothing is accomplished. It’s exhausting and morale can take a real hit. Everyone feels tired and frustrated and thinks, “Nothing was done and now I have to go to ANOTHER meeting.” 

Facilitators help establish the goals of the meeting and guide the group to a decision. It sounds simple – and it IS with the right training. A trained facilitator will be able to:

  • Accelerate performance 
  • Focus on finding agreement
  • Include a neutral person to lead the meeting
  • Inform, excite, empower and involve staff

Tune in next time when we discuss how YOUR organization can benefit from facilitation.

Flickr photo by Stellajo1976

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