Maintaining effectiveness

Facilitation can be both a thankless task and an exceptionally rewarding one. Through a well-timed intervention, you can help a group get to grips with a thorny issue and move on to a productive solution and a creative, collaborative space.

On another day, you may be challenged and sometimes attacked for saying what you notice is happening in the group when no-one else is prepared to. Sometimes there may seem no way through the block the group is facing. And yet on other occasions, the group may be working so well for themselves that they may not even notice or value what you have done to help this happen.

As a result, it can be difficult to monitor your effectiveness. A diagnostic tool can help facilitators sustain and maintain their own practice. Here are some of the components of one we have developed at Roffey Park.

Self-awareness

Effective facilitators have high level of self-awareness. They know what makes them tick, their strengths and weaknesses, what makes them feel vulnerable, when to rein in their egos, the participant behaviours and situations they find difficult, and why. They constantly think about what they do and how they do it.

To get a feel for your personal boundaries and competencies – and to maintain your effectiveness – you need to critically reflect on these issues and regularly review your performance against your own assessment criteria.

Assess performance

Take a moment to rate your own competence and confidence as a facilitator. What score would you give yourself out of 10, and why? If there is a difference between your scores for confidence and competence, what does this say about your practice as a facilitator?

When you facilitate, try to evaluate your performance immediately afterwards. For example, ask yourself:

– Did you set the boundaries from the outset?

– Did you remain impartial?

– Did you track and assess the group dynamics?

– Did you keep your finger on what was happening in the group?

– Was the environment appropriate?

– Did you use the right personal style?

– Did you let go of the content and focus on the underlying process?

– Did you experiment/take any risks?

– Did you intervene when necessary?

– Should you have intervened earlier?

– Did you try to deal with disruptive individuals or difficult situations?

– Could you have handled those situations better?

– Were you overly domineering?

You will need to be disciplined to do this assessment every time.

Key skills

The core skills needed for effective facilitation are:

– empathy

– listening

– questioning

– observation

– feedback.

How would you rate your own skills in each of these areas? Get some feedback from others on how you are doing and work at being ‘present’ in the room so that you notice how you are doing yourself.

Remember, there is more to facilitation than just taking part in a meeting. It is actually an end-to-end process. Remember to try and assess your skills at all stages, from client contact and engagement to planning and designing the event/meeting, right through to completion and evaluation.

Style

As a facilitator, you use your ‘self’ as an instrument in the groups with whom you work. Effective facilitators can operate in a range of styles to suit the needs of the group and task. For example, a facilitator can choose to vary their style from:

– non-directive to directive

– cognitive (the head) to emotional (heart) to behaviours (hands)

– exploratory to confrontative

– ‘alongside’ to ‘in’ the group.

In terms of style, most of us will have default positions where we feel most comfortable. Where are you? And what implications does this have for your practice?

Feedback

It is very difficult to be entirely objective with self-assessments. That’s why it’s always best to supplement your own opinions with the views of others.

At the end of a meeting or event, the participants you have facilitated will usually have an opinion on where they have ended up, and whether or not it was worthwhile. Ask them for feedback on your facilitation style. Look at what has been agreed, and how it will now move forward.

If co-facilitators are involved, always have a de-briefing session with them, so each of you can gain feedback on your preparation and performance. If you do not often co-facilitate, find a trusted peer with whom you can ‘shadow consult’, and talk these issues through.

Because facilitation is one of those roles where you never really know if you’ve done the right thing, there is a huge benefit in meeting up with other facilitators who can give you feedback on your performance. From this, you can build up a support network that will give you the confidence to facilitate effectively in a wide range of situations. You can also equip yourself with the skills to deal with the situations you find difficult, whatever they may be.

Consider becoming a member of a professional body, such as the International Association of Facilitators (www.iaf-world.org). This will give you access to a fantastic network of contacts, as well as new tools and techniques.

Remember: facilitation is an art, not a science. Competence, awareness of group processes, tools, techniques and skills are all important. But to be really effective, you must always work on your practice. And the more you do it, the more comfortable you become with it.


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