A Quick Reference Guide For Facilitators
It's 11:00 pm. You have been at the board meeting since 7:00 pm. A few good ideas have been suggested, but no decisions or plans have been made. You'd rather be watching the late night news!
Fortunately, there is a solution to this frustrating and all-too-common situation: a facilitator. Group facilitation, whether spontaneous or planned, can make your meetings more productive. It requires an individual with knowledge, skills and experience. You could be that facilitator and "save" your fellow board members from another all-night meeting!
The word "facilitate" comes from the French word "facile", which means "easy". As a group facilitator, you help a group to discuss an issue, make a decision or solve a problem. You keep the group moving, and always towards its (not your) stated goals. By listening, observing and using your intuition, you are also very aware of individual needs and desires. While the group focuses on the task, you focus not only on the process but also the people.
It doesn't matter what sort of discussion is needed. It could be a brainstorming session to help a group come up with fund-raising ideas, or create a project plan. With the proper facilitation skills and knowledge, you can help any group achieve its goals efficiently and enjoyably.
An effective facilitator:
An effective facilitator must also hold certain values and attitudes. To be most productive, the group must share these same values. Demonstrate the following values and attitudes yourself, and you will help foster them in the group you work with:
You have just been asked to facilitate a group discussion. To prepare, you need to talk first with 2 or 3 key individuals from the group. They should represent the group and its wishes. You need to learn about the culture of the group, including its successes and failures, to develop an appropriate facilitation process, one that allows you to think about the task, while being sensitive to each individual's needs and desires. To do this, you will need answers to the following questions:
These questions are not always easy; often you will have to probe for the answers. Once you have them and an understanding of the group's personality, you are ready to design an appropriate process. Many facilitators rely on several specific decision-making and problem-solving techniques to design most of the processes they use.
There are many proven techniques. Your challenge is to select those which will suit the group size, personality and objectives. Be flexible. Each technique can be individually tailored to meet the needs of your group. Some can be used spontaneously, while others may require some planning, consultation and adaptation for the group. In some situations, you could combine techniques.
Experiment! Develop your own methods, but continue to follow the values and attitudes of an effective facilitator, and use the skills described earlier.
Here are seven decision-making and problem-solving techniques for your facilitator's tool box.
Pair-Share allows individuals to think about their own ideas and opinions before sharing them. Useful with large groups, it provides every person the opportunity to speak without the intimidation of having to address a large group. It also helps individuals to focus and express their concerns, and allows for more in-depth discussions than would happen among one large group.
A committee is having its first meeting to organize a Trade Show. The committee members do not know each other well and are unclear about how to accomplish their task. Pair-Share will help individuals get to know others and start the committee on its task.
This technique allows group members to choose which issue to discuss. It maximizes the use of time and people.
A local Farmers' Market association needs to edit the draft of its marketing brochure before sending it to the print shop. Since the brochure is divided into 4 parts, front cover, pricing list, market produce and crafts, you could facilitate a discussion using "Corners".
Consensus is a method for making decisions. All group members actively discuss the issue and are encouraged to contribute their own opinions, knowledge and skills. The final decision is one which everyone can live with and support.
The Economic Development Committee has the task of selecting a project based upon the following three suggestions:
Often a group can discuss and reach consensus on its own. You may be able to withdraw from the discussion as it proceeds. Other groups, not quite as sensitive to individuals, may need you to ensure that each individual is heard and no one is bullied.
The ORID-focused discussion method has four consecutive stages: Objective, Reflective, Interpretive and Decisional. It is a logical series of questions that probes the natural sequence humans use to think about an issue. As the facilitator of this discussion, your job is to develop a series of probing questions, in sequence, which help group members explore (discuss) their common experience.
A group has just finished organizing and hosting a l0k road race to raise money for their community's new recreational complex.
Useful Tips for ORID:
Open-ended questions that require specific examples and illustrations work best. The discussion is informal and should flow naturally from one stage to the next. You may need to be patient and wait for responses. Silence is OK. It lets people think. You should not force anyone to speak, but gently ask those that have not contributed what they have to share.
The group does not need to know the theory behind this technique for it to be effective. To help the group remember and consider key points, you may wish to record some of the discussion on a flipchart.
5. Brainstorming Workshop
We all brainstorm or toss out ideas from time to time, but they tend to get lost if they are not adequately heard or recorded.
A few key leaders in the agri-food industry have called a meeting to identify the critical issues affecting their industry. They hope that once the issues have been identified, people will work together to address them.
Now your group has identified and recorded topics and ideas for discussion.
6. Nominal Group Technique (NGT)
This method is useful for a group that needs to rank ideas or issues. It may not yield a true consensus, but it ensures that individual opinions are given equal weight. It limits conversation, so people are unlikely to be swayed by others' opinion.
If there are not a lot of items, the group may use consensus, as the Economic Development Committee did. However, if there are several items, then the Nominal Group Technique may be just what your group needs.
Using ORID, your group identified four key issues facing the agri-food industry. Now your group needs to rank them.
Based upon the results, the most preferred issue is ##, followed by @@, ** then &&.
7. The Parking Lot
This technique captures ideas that are important but not immediately relevant to the issue currently being discussing. By "parking" these ideas, you do not lose them and the group can revisit them later. This technique helps to keep the group focused while ensuring important thoughts are not lost.
The group that organized the 10k road race is having an ORID discussion to evaluate their event when someone mentions that they forgot to thank the grocer who donated the oranges.
If you were spontaneously asked to facilitate a discussion, then ideally you immediately return to your original role as a group member once the group achieves its goal. Before doing so however, summarize the achievements of the group.
If instead your facilitation process was a planned one, then your conclusion should be a bit more detailed. Your facilitation process will end when time expires and/or the group achieves its goals. Ideally, the group's goal(s) will have been achieved within the designated time frame, but this is not always the case. Regardless, your remaining tasks are to:
Facilitating is a challenging yet rewarding experience. It challenges us in the sense that it involves a complex mixture of knowledge, skills, attitudes and intuition. The knowledge can be developed by reading material such as this. The skills can be developed by doing. The attitudes will be developed once you believe in what you are doing. And the intuition will grow with each facilitation experience.
Group work is fascinating because groups are made up of people. All people are different from each other, and each responds differently to life. Therefore, each group discussion will be different than every other. Your job as a facilitator is to appreciate and understand these differences to help individuals express themselves.
Annual Handbook for Facilitators, Trainers and Consultants.
Annual Handbook for Group Facilitators. University Associates.
Cooperative Learning - Where Heart Meets Mind. Bennett, Barry, Carol Rolheiser-Bennett, Laurie Stevahn. Educational Connections. 1991.
Leadership, Experience and Development (L.E.A.D.). Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. 1991.
Managing for Learning in Organizations: The Fundamentals. Abbey-Livingston, D. and D. Kelleher.
A Manual for Group Facilitators. Auvine, B., B. Densmore, M. Extrom, S. Poole, M. Shanklin. Center for Conflict Resolution.
Participative Training Techniques: Participant Manual. Ontario Agricultural Training Institute, 1991.
Planning Action in a Changing Environment (P.A.C.E.). Sanders, Jan. 1992.
Winning Through Participation. Spencer, Laura. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., Iowa, 1989.
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