Do You Have a Facility for Facilitation?

We love assuming this role and believe that a Facilitator can add enormous value to team discussions and team problem-solving. But we also recognise that not every team can afford to bring in an independent facilitator every time it meets.

This short article offers some guidance on how to get the best out of facilitation by using a colleague from elsewhere in the business or, if absolutely, necessary, by asking a member of the team to assume the role.

According To the Oxford English Dictionary, the purpose of facilitation is to: “Make easy, promote, help forward, (action or result).”

This clarifies point one:

1.     Facilitation is as much about the process as it is about the outcome.

Having a clearly defined outcome assists the facilitator and the person(s) being facilitated, and having a structured process ensures that the experience is:

  1. Controlled

  2. Constructive

  3. Focused

  4. Inclusive

Therefore, the Facilitator should always clarify as early as possible what the expectations of the team are: what they need to achieve; what is already determined to be non-negotiable; where there is room for manoeuvre; and a desired  outcome that will be ‘good enough’.

Also clarify how long the discussion can last, being careful not to leave it open-ended. Even if the issue under review cannot be completed in its entirety in this one session, you should agree which stage you plan to reach by the end of this meeting.

2.     Facilitators Need to Build Trust

Facilitation is concerned with enabling and fostering. For people to respond to your facilitation they should trust your motives.

The real challenge for any manager, supervisor, team leader or trainer who wishes to assume the role of facilitator at any point, is to build facilitation into their armoury BEFORE it is truly necessary to exercise it. Otherwise, people can respond in a suspicious way to your apparent schizophrenia.

3.     Facilitation is a core-management competency but it is not exclusive to managers.

The role of the Facilitator is not determined by rank. In fact, the more you can do to down-play any rank you have will be helpful.

Facilitation is composed of a variety of well-exercised communication skills. It is a powerful tool for anyone whose eye is firmly on generating willing and successful participation from his or her colleagues; or supporting people in other areas of the business beyond their own.

4.     Good Facilitation Works!

Within teams, there is considerable evidence to suggest that failure is a significant likelihood if a facilitator is not appointed. The Facilitator can move between members of a team, allowing for all team members to play a full role over a period of time.

The appointment of a facilitator to guide the discussion, share their observations, coach, and cajole is an essential requirement for the successful launch of any change programme.  In time, as individuals and groups begin to be familiar with tools and techniques the need for appointed facilitators starts to diminish.  But in the early days, the discipline provided by a Facilitator is very powerful.

5.     It’s Not Always Totally  Neutral

Perceived wisdom suggests that the role of the facilitator is one of neutrality. In reality, the picture is slightly different.

Where internal Facilitators are used, they invariably operate within the framework of a clear agenda and have opinions and views on desired outcomes. It would be disingenuous to pretend that they don’t have a view, and the truth of this would begin to emerge over time. If people feel manipulated and backed into a corner (because it becomes apparent that the discussion will only end once everyone agrees with the Facilitator), the assumed independence of the Facilitator will be compromised.

Therefore it is essential for the Facilitator to declare their interest and agree the terms of reference for the discussion and their role within it. If they genuinely have no interest other than to find a resolution that the whole team is happy with, that’s great. If not, people need to know where their interests lie.

Sometimes, having two Facilitators means that the baton can be passed at various intervals, allowing some additional freedom for each person to contribute directly to the discussion.

If this happens, it’s a good idea to share out the responsibilities so that one person manages the process (time, recording, agenda, etc.), whilst the other person focuses on ensuring that people have the opportunity to contribute.

6.     Pay Attention to What Counts

For success to follow, commitment must be generated from those who will be affected

Since successful teams display certain characteristics and these characteristics contribute in turn to their success, facilitating a team means paying attention to these characteristics.

Key aspects to observe include:

  1. Consensus over commitment to goals.

  2. Team objectives override personal agendas.

  3. Effective communications – within and without the team.

  4. Thorough problem solving/seeking to improve the team’s performance.

  5. Good interpersonal relationships and support.

  6. Enthusiasm and participation from all team members.

  7. Prioritise the Important Stuff.

If a team is not routinely displaying these behaviours, the outcome it seeks will never be as successful or lasting (if they reach it at all), and the process will be more tortuous for all concerned.

Therefore, the Facilitator should review regularly the behaviour and the performance of the team.  This will help to identify where the team can perform better and what action may be required to do that.


Facilitation plays a critical role in the success of any team. Yet it is more of an art than a skill. It takes time to develop a feel for it, and the same thing won’t necessarily work twice.

Intuition, ability to create and maintain great rapport, and a determination to keep the team on track all play a vital role in your success as a Facilitator. But there’s no real substitute for sincerity and practice. Get comfortable with trial and error…what are you waiting for?

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