Making Group Work Easy: The Art of Successful Facilitation

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Therefore the primary job of a trainer is to teach new concepts and skills and to pass on knowledge to the training participants. In contrast, the focus of facilitation is on thinking.

Therefore the primary job of a facilitator is to help the group achieve its goals by guiding them through an efficient and productive process. But what if a training session is done very interactively? An efficient training program should actually be designed to have a balanced interaction. Yet, even in such cases, there are some fundamental differences between process facilitation and training facilitation , as highlighted by Barbara MacKay.

Since training is about teaching new skills and concepts, and facilitation is about helping the group in thinking, trainers and facilitators need to have different, if overlapping, skill sets. As a trainer, you need to put more emphasis on learning design skills and possess more knowledge about adult learning principles. Also, even in an interactive, well-facilitated training session, you will spend a significant proportion of time presenting concepts, as you need to provide certain theories and information to deliver the core content of your training.

Alternately, as a facilitator, you would put the emphasis on process design and group interaction techniques in order to come up with a sound process. You need expertise in verbal and non-verbal facilitation skills in order to keep the group thinking and on the right track.

All About Group and Team Facilitation

Still, the two worlds do overlap when it comes to speaking in front of a group and managing group conversations. The ability to communicate clearly, both verbally and non-verbally, is extremely relevant to both trainers and facilitators alike. No one is born an expert facilitator. It is important to work on certain skills that will help you become an effective facilitator. We have collected below the most important skills that a facilitator needs, divided into two parts of the facilitation process:. So, for a one-day group process, one would need at least 2 days of preparations, although more days may be needed to deal with complex requirements, such as a controversial topic with multiple stakeholders or a large group workshop where parallel work and a whole team of facilitators are required.

Any meeting or workshop needs to have a clearly defined goal, and as a facilitator, you need to be clear about the objectives. Ask questions to understand the underlying motivation behind a meeting, and develop a consensus with the client about their goals. When you know the outcomes you want to achieve, it is time to find the right process for that. Congratulations, you have a process! Next, you need to make sure that your process is works with the reality of time constraints, logistics, group dynamics and the natural attention levels of flesh and blood people sitting in your workshop room.

In most cases, it is necessary to inform the client about the process that you are planning, and, in general, to maintain steady communication to make sure that all preparations go smoothly. Most of the time your client will have a natural interest in knowing the process and agenda for your meeting. They will have a number of people attending the workshop — meetings and workshop can be particularly expensive if you consider the time value of the people present — and they want to be assured that the group will be in good hands.

Therefore, it is important to keep your clients updated throughout the design process for their peace of mind. This also offers a chance to get further insights about the goals and the group, helping you to come up with the right session design.


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Getting the room properly set up for a meeting is important. Have catering arranged so food and drinks are available during breaks, and have the right workshop equipment at hand. There are a myriad of minor tasks and to-dos on the logistic side of preparing a workshop. In other cases, you might need to do this alone step-by-step, checking that everything is going fine with the logistics and pulling the right strings when something is needed. Participation from all group members is essential for a well-facilitated meeting. One of the most important things you can do as a facilitator is to create an atmosphere that encourages participation.

This comes partially from your session design: include ice-breaker and get-to-know games to help people open up and start speaking. Meaning, make sure everyone can see each other and remove barriers from the room. While you designed the agenda for your session, you probably clearly envisioned how group members will act during the activities you planned.

Essential Facilitation Skills for an Effective Facilitator

Now that you are in the room with the group, you also need to clearly explain what you are asking from them. Here are a few practical tips to help:. Each group has its own dynamics with the specific and sophisticated interrelations between its members. As a facilitator, you want to create a participative atmosphere where everyone is involved. Paying attention to the dynamics of the group and how individuals participate is important. You will need practice to master the skills of picking up on the atmosphere, measuring the emotional temperature, and helping the group achieve its potential.

For all of these, empathy is an essential skill. Conflict-ridden topics will stir up emotions in participants, and arguments are a natural part of a discussion; however, not all people get heat equally. A basic condition for an effective conversation is that people feel they are being heard and listened to. Practise your active listening skills as a facilitator, and encourage all participants to do the same. Also, basic verbal tools, such as paraphrasing, referring back and summarising help a lot to show the group that their thoughts are being heard. Speaking of simple verbal tools, there are a number of basic techniques that a facilitator should be able to use confidently at meetings in order to facilitate discussions, engage participants and to make sure everyone is involved:.

The ability to handle and diffuse tension is a skill that sets expert facilitators apart from the others. Remember, the group has a goal, and individual differences will need to be handled to achieve that. Given the time and scope of the session, not every interpersonal difference can or should be resolved; however, it is important that you know the right techniques and group processes for diffusing tension. Sometimes this might mean breaking up the work into smaller groups, taking a break, shifting perspectives or changing the scenery, etc.

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Dealing with conflict-stacked situations are among the biggest challenges to effective facilitation. Often, there are underlying conflicts behind disagreements taking place in a conversation. However, you still need to keep in mind that the group has its own goals, and one person hijacking all the attention is a dangerous track.


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Schiola Author. Availability Usually despatched within 2 weeks. Facebook Twitter Pinterest Share. Description The latest research about improving education shows that when educators work together to examine data, brainstorm strategies, implement those strategies, and check the data again, student achievement rises. These processes are well known and effective.

What Is a Facilitator?

What is often overlooked or taken for granted is the process the educators will use to work with one another and find effective solutions. It is easy to say that educators will just meet with each other and work these things out.


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However, as we have learned with students, people are not born with all of the skills to work in teams. This book teaches a process that will help both teachers and administrators plan for and conduct meetings that are meaningful, useful, and that generate results. About the Author Steven A. Schiola worked for thirty years as an elementary teacher, elementary principal, and staff development coordinator in Colorado schools. Learn more at www.