Effective group facilitation relies on a blend of skills and personality traits. There are key facilitator traits crucial for guiding diverse teams and creating collaborative environments for ideas to flourish.
Though there are many skills that excellent facilitators possess, here is our guide to the top 10 foundational characteristics of effective facilitators.
An excellent facilitator is one who knows not only how to speak comfortably in front of an audience but who is also well-practiced in the art of active listening. Mastering this facilitation skill is essential to fostering open communication in your sessions as well as conveying the meeting process in a simple, concise manner. Facilitators are expected to paraphrase back individual ideas for purposes of getting better clarity and/or to validate the speaker’s intention. Being able to summarize and communicate back key themes, trends and/or decisions that have been proposed helps the group to effectively create closure.
Being open to change doesn’t mean incorporating every idea that someone else comes up with. Being open to change means being flexible and not dead-set on the process plan you designed. Different groups have unique facilitation needs which a great facilitator can recognize and cater to by tailoring the process and incorporating others’ process ideas when they are relevant and add value to the meeting. For example, don’t be afraid to step out of the meeting structure to enjoy a playful exercise that fosters team bonding or garners more energy within the group. When the group feels they are empowered to make suggestions on structural changes they are more likely to buy in to the process. You can also try using the Sequential Questioning Technique to diverge group discussions and gain different perspectives and viewpoints.
Another skill a facilitator needs is to be able to pick up on small gestures, glances and facial expressions that can all point to the individual’s honest reaction and/or opinion. It’s important to get a sense of what is really happening in people’s minds and what they are feeling by noting mixed messages when they occur as a way to bring concerns, differing opinions and resistance to the surface.
Pro tip: As much as you pay attention to your audience’s physical reactions, they are watching yours! The body language of a facilitator plays a crucial role in setting the tone for successful meetings.
Whether you are starting a facilitation, in the middle of a facilitation, or at the end of a facilitation, being optimistic and positive will help you facilitate the meeting smoothly and get the most engagement from each member of the group. One way we do this is by using ‘appreciative inquiry’ – helping participants to look at issues from a strengths, or “what’s working” perspective rather than “what’s not working”.
By being your authentic self, you will find it easier to connect to the participants, which will help you guide and understand them better, resulting in successful group facilitation in which the members of the group bond and trust each other. Just like a good facilitator has keen observation skills in noting mixed messages, the participants also have an amazing ability to pick up on disingenuous comments or statements that can shut them down.
Throughout the meeting, an excellent facilitator will be able to stay neutral and treat all participants as equals, regardless of power, personality types, personal opinions, or biases. This is a crucial element of facilitation that needs to be learned through practice. When playing the different roles of facilitators (e.g. subject matter expert and facilitator), a skilled leader will be completely transparent as to which role they’re playing when they need to shift between roles.
A facilitator has to know when to ramp up the energy in the room and/or when to bring back the focus of the group. Having an energetic personality can help heighten the excitement for an upcoming project or get a brainstorming session off to the right start regardless of the participant’s commitment to the process. When tensions between participants appear, a good facilitator has the ability to stay calm during disagreements. This takes tremendous energy and skill and will help diffuse tensions and keep dialogue constructive and on-topic.
In order to ensure participants are not caving into one person’s idea(s), the facilitator will challenge the group by posing questions to either help them think more broadly, deeper or wider. If required, the facilitator encourages the group to stop and reflect on their performance or ideas for purposes of improvement. Feedback is best when it is constructive and is based on real, observable events that others can relate to. The facilitator also demonstrates their willingness to receive feedback by actively listening and incorporating process changes where it make sense.
Facilitators use the art of questioning or asking, rather than telling, to encourage group members to come up with their own ideas. If the group is unable to come up with ideas the facilitator will only throw out suggestions to stimulate further ideas. The facilitator understands that if the group comes up with the ideas themselves, ultimately, buy-in and follow-through are increased.
Last but not least, staying patient during the facilitation process is crucial for the meeting to be successful. The facilitator does not show their frustration or anger at the participants for not being brilliant in generating ideas or when an individual or the group is not following the process plan. Even in moments where the facilitator has a strong opinion about a problem being worked towards, they must maintain perceived neutrality. This can be made easier after evaluating if the problem is due to a content or a process issue. Once noted, the resolution of the problem can be as simple as asking different questions to help the group see the issue more clearly, or as difficult as changing the process plan to suit the group’s changing needs.
A great facilitator values and respects the power of the group. They believe better decisions; better ideas and better outcomes can be achieved when the intelligence in the room has been leveraged. By combining their knowledge, skills and personality in an effective way a top-notch meeting leader will be able to facilitate trust and draw the best out the group.
What trait(s) do you think are most important that we’ve identified or missed?
Do you have a unique meeting challenge not covered by one of our blog posts? We’re always looking for different dilemmas to discuss in our articles!