How to Improve Your Facilitation Skills (and be a Great Facilitator)
Facilitation has never been more important. In an age of ever-more meetings, workshops, and training courses, having someone in the room whose job it is to create engagement and make things easier for the group is vital to creating great outcomes.
But how to know when you need a facilitator or what faciltiation skills you need to make your meetings and workshops more effective? While meetings and workshops are great opportunities to innovate, solve problems and make decisions, poorly facilitated meetings are also a frequent source of frustration.
In this post, we’ll explore what facilitation is, the skills you need to become an expert facilitator, and how to improve your facilitation practice.
Simply put, improving your facilitation skills and knowing when to bring in a facilitator is one of the best things you can to supercharge your facilitation career or be a better manager.
Let’s dive in!
- What is facilitation?
- What is the role of a facilitator?
- Why is a facilitator important?
- What does a facilitator do?
- What is the difference between a trainer and a facilitator?
- Facilitation Skills
- How can I improve my facilitation skills?
- Facilitator resources
What is facilitation?
If you look up the dictionary definition of facilitation, you will get the following result (from the Cambridge Dictionary): “the act of helping other people to deal with a process or reach an agreement or solution without getting directly involved in the process, discussion, etc. yourself”.
If you research it a bit more, you will see that keywords are centered around leading processes and creating participation while staying neutral. Thus, we can distill our definition further into:
“Facilitation is the art of leading people through processes towards agreed-upon objectives in a manner that encourages participation, ownership and creativity by all those involved”
From this point, it would be an easy shortcut to say that the facilitator is the person doing facilitation. And to expand upon it, according to Google’s definition, a facilitator is a “person or thing that makes an action or process easy or easier”.
These definitions bring us closer to understanding what a facilitator does and what facilitation is, but let’s dig in more into what the actual role of a facilitator is and how group facilitation skills can help teams be more productive.
What is the role of a facilitator?
A facilitator has a wide range of tasks to perform in order to ‘make things easier’ for people who participate in a facilitated discussion:
- Support individuals within a group in understanding their common objectives.
- Help people collectively move through a process.
- Structure conversations and apply appropriate group facilitation techniques to keep discussions effective.
- Foster participation and get people to come up with ideas, thoughts and perspectives that add value.
- Get all individuals in the room to feel like they are in a group with a shared interest.
If we really want to understand the different angles of the facilitator’s role, then the following similes may help. A facilitator can be perceived as:
- A ‘catalyst’ for discussion: She makes possible the transformation of input (ideas, opinions) to desired outcome (refined ideas, decisions, strategies, etc.) without being an active part of the conversation herself.
- A ‘conductor’ of an orchestra: She synchronises all the musicians (group participants), optimally guiding the use of their instruments toward the desired result – a harmonic musical expression of the musicians’ complex interactions, creativity, and expertise. As the “conductor” guides the participants, a system is organically created wherein the facilitator helps every individual comply with the agreed-upon rules and norms to be followed. In this way, her efforts enable each person in the “orchestra” to create something greater than themselves.
- A ‘coach’: she helps the group form a constructive way of working together, identify its needs and wishes, and reach the outcome they would jointly like to achieve.
Neutrality versus involvement in the content
Ideally, a facilitator should maintain a position of joining the discussion as a neutral party. She simply “makes the conversation happen”, or facilitates, as the name suggests.
Naturally, the facilitator needs to influence the group to help them stay on track, but must avoid dictating to it. It is essential that the group feels they have ownership of the outcomes they reach – that they have been guided to find their own solutions, without being told or offered solutions.
Why is a facilitator important?
There are several reasons why the presence of a facilitator can be important for a meeting:
- Firstly, the larger a meeting is, the more effort it takes to control and manage. When you sit down with two colleagues to quickly discuss a technical question, you probably don’t need much organisation and planning. But when you have a workshop that takes 2 days with 15 people, it requires infinitely more attention to manage both the preparation and the process. Group facilitation skills help a facilitator be effective in large group settings and coordinate a team with ease.
- Having a neutral, external facilitator allows everyone else in the room to get fully involved in the conversation. Let’s take an annual strategic planning meeting as an example, where the manager of the team is present. She has her own ideas about what a good strategy might be for the company; however, so do all the other people in the room! A facilitator naturally has an authority over the process of the meeting; if the manager is also facilitating the process, it is easy to mix up their roles as a content contributor and process authority, leading to potential difficulties or tension during discussions. Or to put it differently, as a manager and knowledgeable expert in a group, would you rather want to spend your attention on facilitating the process or contributing to it to come up with a good company strategy? This is why it is useful to have one person fully dedicated to focusing on how the group members are working together, helping them achieve their goals effectively without introducing bias.
- The higher the stakes of a meeting, the more important it is to have someone who is a professional at running meetings. Having to repeat a multi-stakeholder meeting because of an unproductive first attempt is both expensive and a big loss of credit to the sponsor of the meeting. A facilitator helps ensure the success of a meeting
What does a facilitator do?
A facilitator is a person who essentially sets all the right coordinates for a meeting or workshop to take place and produce results. The process may vary depending on the situation, but most often, a facilitator has the following responsibilities when engaging in workshop or meeting facilitation:
- Design and plan: The cornerstone of facilitation is understanding what the objectives of the session are so you can work towards achieving them. Once you know the objectives, it is time to design the right group process and select the proper facilitation techniques that will help you achieve the outcomes. Having a sound agenda will help you stay confident and make adjustments as needed during the event.
- Run the process and facilitate the meeting: When the session starts, it is time to guide the group through the designed process, encourage participation and help the group achieve its goals. Here are some of the most important elements of what a facilitator specifically does during a session:
- Set the context and ground rules: This is about making sure that everyone is on the same page concerning goals and the agenda of the session and ensuring everyone is aware of, and agrees upon, the rules of the meeting (Rules are created about respecting others’ opinions, how questions will be answered, etc.). Facilitation best practice includes leading by example – setting the ground rules is a great place to start.
- Encourage participation: Create an environment where all participant feels encouraged to share their opinions. This may involve breaking the ice, helping people warm up to the meeting and acknowledging contributions of participants to the conversations. This is one of the most important group facilitation skills a facilitator can have. If you can encourage participation from everyone in the room, everything else can begin to fall into place.
- Facilitate discussions: Staying neutral, you will help kick-off and round up conversations, highlighting points of consensus and summarising key takeaways. Intervene when necessary and help the group clarify outcomes.
- Hold the time and space: While guiding the group through the different steps of the process, maintain a focused and participative atmosphere. Take care of timing and keep the environment supportive to ensure productive discussions. Be present as a facilitator and remember even your most basic facilitation skills. A meeting or workshop can’t be successful if you mess up the fundamentals!
- Keep an eye on the efficiency of the group work and adjust the process if necessary: Your main focus as a facilitator is to keep up a good momentum of the group’s work and ensure that all participants contribute to finding solutions during the session. If you notice that cooperation falters or the process is stuck, it is your responsibility to find the right techniques to adjust the plan and help get the group back on track. Group facilitation isn’t easy, but by being aware of the process and alert to what is going on in the room, a workshop facilitator can help it be successful for everyone.
- Record results: Agreements made, points of consensus, decisions and action items – these all need to be recorded and preferably kept visible for all participants during the event. Effective facilitation is all about creating an open dialogue for groups and teams. Recording and sharing the results of a meeting or workshop is a hallmark of a facilitator doing great work.
What is the difference between a trainer and a facilitator?
Earlier, we learned that the essence of facilitation is to make an action or process easy or easier. This definition allows for quite a wide application: you can facilitate a meeting to help your group achieve goals, but you can also facilitate a training session to help a group learn new skills.
In fact, the terms trainer and facilitator are often used interchangeably despite some major differences between the two roles. While facilitation and training ask for some of the same skills, understanding the differences is important for facilitators and trainers alike.
Traditionally, the focus of training is on learning. 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.
Traditionally, the world of ‘training’ is much more associated with presenting information than the world of ‘facilitation,’ which is associated with interactivity. But what if a training session is done very interactively? (An efficient training program should actually be designed to have a balanced interaction). Then you might be well-founded in using the term ‘facilitating a training,’ bridging the worlds of training and facilitation.
Yet, even in such cases, there are some fundamental differences between process facilitation and training facilitation, as highlighted by Barbara MacKay
- Learning vs. Thinking: Training is about passing on learning, and process facilitation is about helping the thinking in a group
- Hierarchical vs. Collaborative: Training is a hierarchical model where the trainer is the teacher and the learner is the student who is supposed to know less than the trainer. Facilitation, on the other hand, is based on collaboration.
- Applying vs. Communicating: The trainer is supposed to help the group apply the content he or she has given them. In facilitation, it is not the role of the facilitator to reinforce concepts but to give space for communication within the group.
- Linear vs. Flexible: From a design perspective, training occurs more often in a linear form the trainer’s outline, while facilitation often has a more flexible agenda, as you cannot exactly predict what is going to happen within the group.
- Longer-term versus Immediate results: A trainer is often focused on achieving a longer-term outcome, while as a process facilitator, you’re looking for short-term insights and, often, immediate results.
Training vs. facilitation skills
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.
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 facilitation skills that will help you become more effective as a facilitator, whether you are working with teams internally or externally. Consider this facilitation skills checklist the start of your facilitation training. Let’s get started!
We have collected below the most important skills that a facilitator needs, divided into two parts of the facilitation process.
- Designing the group process
- Guiding the group through the process and adjusting the process as needed
Let’s review which skills are required for a facilitator to perform effectively in each step of the process:
Facilitation skills for preparing a meeting:
- Asking the right questions
- Process design
- Agenda planning
- Communication with stakeholders
- Organising and project management
Facilitation skills for facilitating the meeting:
- Create an inclusive environment
- Communicate clear guidelines and instructions
- Group dynamics (and group management)
- Active listening
- Verbal skills to facilitate conversations
- Conflict management
- Manage timing
- Gauge the energy level of a room
- Staying neutral
- Recording outcomes
Facilitation skills for preparing a meeting
The general rule of thumb says that preparing a group process / group facilitation usually takes twice as much as the actual net meeting time where the facilitation takes place. 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.
Now let’s see what specific skills you will need for the process design:
Asking the right questions
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.
You might go further during needs assessment to understand what the different stakeholders of an event might want in order to come up with a solution that meets your client’s needs. Group facilitation where the wrong questions are asked can lead to frustration or wasted time. A hallmark of effective facilitation is clarity and purpose – be sure to get this right early on!
When you know the outcomes you want to achieve, it is time to find the right process for that. But what does it mean to “find the right process’?
- As a facilitator, you are helping the group think. So, finding the right process is about finding the structure that will help the group to think effectively. This may be an open discussion, or a structured one, where you as the facilitator use different techniques to help the group to exchange viewpoints, analyze issues, generate ideas and make decisions.
- A common structure for group facilitation discussions is to apply Divergent and Convergent Thinking: First, you help the group broaden their horizons and generate new ideas or solutions. Then you help them narrow down the set of options they have created to make a final decision.
- Finding the right process should be done from the viewpoint that participants must be kept engaged throughout the event. Group engagement is something the facilitator should be conscious of throughout the workshop.
- Often times you will elect to use specific facilitation techniques to keep your session interactive and keep participation high.
- Keep in mind the desired outcomes so you can design a suitable process. A workshop facilitator must pay particular attention to this in order to ensure the entire workshop can help the group move towards a productive outcome.
- If you (and the group) have multiple desired outcomes, make sure that you have a clear process to reach each of them. This can be where your group facilitation skills can be tested if you haven’t carefully constructed a process for your workshop or meeting. Remember that a facilitator needs to prioritize and have realistic expectations of the group. Be critical in this stage of the design process so that your facilitation does not suffer from being overwhelmed during the meeting or workshop.
Congratulations, you have a process! Next, you need to make sure that your process 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.
Proper planning is one of your most important facilitation skills – do not rush or skip this stage. Your facilitation practice will benefit from nailing this stage and learning from it for future workshops and meetings.
There are several factors to consider when planning a workshop agenda:
- Time constraints: A session has a start time and an end time, and participants usually expect you to respect the end time.
- Breaks: If you session spans longer than 90-120 minutes, you should likely include some breaks in your session, for instance, coffee breaks or a lunch break.
- The number of participants: Group discussions have a natural limit and this must be taken into account for anyone involved in group facilitation. Above a certain group size, it gets difficult to have a discussion where everyone is involved. If your group is bigger than a certain size (this will vary by type of exercise or discussion), you will probably need to split your participants into multiple groups and run some exercises and discussions in parallel. Naturally, this takes an increased amount of time. If you have bigger groups, consider clarifying:
- If you want breakout sessions to run parallel tracks in your session
- How different sub-groups will report back to the whole group
- Break the ice: Are participants familiar with each other or not? This, and the nature of your sessions, determines how much effort will be needed to break the ice and allow people to get to know each other. Effective facilitation means warming everyone up so they can be more productive once you get into the meat of your session.
- Interaction mix: There are different types of interaction, ranging from one-to-many forms of presentations to individual work, small group and large group discussions. A healthy balance of different interaction types throughout your session will help participants to stay engaged.
- How will the room and environment support active participation? Plan proper room and seating arrangements and remove barriers in the room. It’s easy to make assumptions or forget, but the room, physical environment and workshop set-up can make effective facilitation easy or more difficult. Plan ahead and be aware of the logistics for any meeting or workshop you are leading as a facilitator.
- How will one topic of the meeting flow into another one?
- Closing and wrapping-up: How should the sessions be properly ended?
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. The best facilitators are in contact with their clients throughout the process and may even get in contact with some of the participants. Good communication at all levels is absolutely integral for a facilitator and anyone involved in group facilitation.
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.
Organising and project management skills
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. This can be easy to overlook but ensuring you get this right is part of facilitation best practices. Missing a vital piece of equipment can be frustrating or stressful and make group facilitation more difficult.
There are a myriad of minor tasks and to-dos on the logistic side of preparing a workshop. In some cases, you may get a helping hand from the client’s side, and someone will help you to have everything arranged as you have designed and requested. 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.
Skills for facilitating a meeting
After proper preparation, the most exciting part of a facilitator’s work is actually running and managing the session and guiding people through the process. Let’s see what facilitation skills a facilitator needs here:
Create an inclusive environment
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. The other part is ensuring that the room’s setting supports active contribution from people. Meaning, make sure everyone can see each other and remove barriers from the room. Group facilitation is hard if the group can’t hear one another!
Communicate clear guidelines and instructions
While you designed the agenda for your session, you probably clearly envisioned how group members will act during the facilitation activities you planned. Now that you are in the room with the group, you also need to clearly explain what you are asking from them. Effective facilitation is predicated on clarity. Here are a few practical tips to help:
- Explain why certain activities are useful.
- Clearly and sequentially explain the steps participants will take.
- Be clear about time constraints.
- If possible, show an example of the type of output you ask them to create.
- Show instructions so they can refer to them as necessary. (For example, pre-write instructions on a flipchart paper or on a powerpoint slide.)
Group dynamics and group management
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 to any group facilitation scenario.
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 one of your most essential facilitation skills.
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. While guiding the group toward solutions for the issues they want to solve, it’s important to pay attention to how individuals within the group may be feeling about the course of things.
A facilitator without empathy is unlikely to be an effective workshop facilitator. Make sure that people are not left behind or left out of the flow of the discussions. By definition, group facilitation means helping everyone in the group contribute in a healthy, productive way.
A basic condition for an effective conversation is that people feel they are being heard and listened to. Active listening is one of your best group facilitation skills and it is often the foundation for a productive discussion.
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.
Verbal skills to facilitate conversations
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:
- Probing: Probing is used to determine the mood or general opinion of the group about a certain topic or point in the discussion. Just asking for a “thumbs up- thumbs down” survey can be enough to get an impression of the general opinion of the group.
- Paraphrasing: Paraphrasing means to express the same content that was just stated before but in your own words in order to check that both you and the others have the same understanding.
- Redirecting questions or comments: Redirecting a question to the group helps get participants more involved in the discussion. In addition, it also encourages group reflection.
- Bridging and referring back: This helps the group follow the discussion and to connect ideas by recalling earlier discussions or ideas.
- Shifting perspective: If the group gets stuck at some point in the discussion, try to shift the perspective and look at the problem from a different angle.
- Summarizing: Repetition promotes understanding, and summarizing what has been discussed so far will help the group build upon the conclusions they have already made.
- Giving positive reinforcement: It’s important to encourage people, especially those who are less assertive, to state their opinions. Therefore, when someone brings up a good point, say so, thus showing his/her participation is appreciated, and later on he/she will feel confident enough again to bring up another idea.
- Including quieter members: Encourage less talkative members to contribute to the discussion. Ask directly for their opinions and ask if they have any questions. At the same time, keep in mind that people do have different learning and thinking styles and may not feel comfortable if they are ‘encouraged’ too much. A facilitator needs to be alert to the needs of different participants and help the group move forward together.
The ability to handle and diffuse tension is a skill that sets expert facilitators apart from the others. Group facilitation is often exciting and productive, though differences of opinion can form in workshops or meetings you might be facilitating.
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.
Handling difficult situations
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.
You might also encounter “difficult participants”. People have reasons for behaving as they do, and if you don’t make an effort to understand their stance, they might keep playing hardball in the session. 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.
At certain times, you may be better off trying to speak to that person in private to discover what drives them, and at minimum, give feedback to help them understand how their behaviour affects the group. Interpersonal communication is again an important part of effective facilitation and ensuring you have these facilitation skills can make your job in a workshop much easier.
Different points of view naturally emerge in a discussion. It is the job of the facilitator to help the group find common ground among different opinions, simultaneously helping the group arrive at a decision that is accepted by everyone. Consensus, in this context, does not mean that everyone must agree with the final decision but that everyone gets an opportunity to share their opinion with the group, and that people are aware of the reasons why a particular decision was made.
In other words, this is called creating a transparent process. For instance, if you choose to use simple dot-voting as the technique to come up with a set of the most preferred ideas after an idea generation activity, then everybody should be made aware why only those most popular ideas will be considered further. In that way everyone understands the process that leads to a final decision. Remember that facilitation is the art of making a process simpler or easier.
Meetings have time limits. This is especially true in effective and productive organizational cultures. A carefully crafted agenda must take into account how much time can be allocated for each activity during a session. Group facilitation with large or complicated groups especially ask for good time management skills.
Part of the facilitator’s role is to guide the group in timely conversations and decisions. It is important that you are aware of the passing time during a meeting and that you let participants know when time is running short for an activity.
In general, effective facilitation assumes efficient timekeeping, with only well-grounded exceptions for going overtime in discussions. Remember, if something takes more time than planned, it usually comes at the expense of some other item on the agenda.
Gauge the energy level in the room
Some activities require more attention from participants, some require less, but no individual will maintain the same level of attention and energy during a full-day workshop. And that’s alright. As a facilitator, you should have a good eye for spotting when the group’s attention level as a whole is getting critically low.
You can make sure to design sessions with varying group activities to keep people engaged, and give regular breaks every 90-120 minutes at least. Secondly, use some energiser activities to instill energy in the room when the energy level is lower than it should be for productive work.
Planning a good process for an event will help you immensely. Being prepared means you will confidently be able to handle unforeseen situations and adjust the pre-planned process more easily as necessary. Usually, activities and discussions end up taking more time than initially planned: the group might need more breaks; new agenda items may pop up; and so on.
As a facilitator, being able to adapt on the fly is an essential skill, and it is also necessary to communicate and confirm the potential changes to the agenda with the group. At the end of the day, as a facilitator, you are helping a group achieve the common and agreed-upon objectives they want. So, if there are any change in the desired outcomes, they should be agreed upon by the group.
“Staying neutral on content while being an expert on process.”
This is the natural credo for a facilitator. It’s not about your ideas, it’s about supporting the group in achieving what they want.
However, there are situations when a facilitator does have a natural interest in the content. After all, one cannot bring an external neutral facilitator for every single meeting in the world. If for any reason you are not content-neutral as a facilitator, you should be clear about this with the group from the beginning. Try to make explicit when you are wearing your ‘facilitator hat’ and when you are using your ‘participant/content-expert hat’.
Recording key takeaways of a conversation is essential for keeping group progress on track and avoiding circling back to the same topics. As a competent facilitator, you should make sure to capture and highlight the key messages – whether that is via visual recording (i.e. arranging post-it notes, sketches, etc. made by participants), or written records (i.e. writing up conclusions). All the insights recorded will provide a useful baseline for action-setting and follow-up.
How can I improve my facilitation skills?
It’s probably needless to say, the best way to get better at facilitation is to practice, practice, practice! Over hundreds of hours of meeting facilitation, you will encounter a myriad of different situations in group dynamics: heated debates, opinionated participants, power dynamics between people, etc. The broader your facilitation toolbox is, the more skilled you will be in applying the right processes to guide each unique group in its thinking.
However, there are a few ways you can accelerate your learning in the realm of facilitation:
- Co-facilitate with experienced facilitators: On-the-job learning from seasoned veterans is probably the most effective way to level up your skills. Strive to design facilitation processes together with other facilitators, and you will encounter different perspectives on how to design an effective group process. Co-facilitate discussions, and you will gain first-hand experience in observing how different strategies work to manage conversations.
- Learn new tools and techniques: Keeping an open mind and staying ahead of the curve is important. Find time to learn and experiment with new tools and techniques to stay up-to-date. Read books, watch videos, look up online facilitation toolboxes and share best practices with colleagues.
- Get trained (and potentially certified): You may consider attending a general facilitation training, or get trained in specific facilitation frameworks or facilitation skills. Whether you are a beginner or professional facilitator, facilitation training can help you grow and refine your practice.
At the end of the day, facilitation is more of an art than a science. The more you do it, the more sophisticated your skills will become! In many ways, the best facilitation training is being on the job as a facilitator.
At SessionLab, we’re passionate about helping facilitators improve their practice, discover new facilitation techniques and lead better workshops. If you’re looking to improve your facilitation or learn more about particular processes, we have you covered with a host of additional resources!
A guide to remote facilitation
Being an effective facilitator in today’s climate means being comfortable with online facilitation and helping groups be effective while being distributed. In this guide, learn about virtual facilitation and be a confident facilitator, whatever the format.
Becoming a good facilitator is all about learning from our peers and building on existing facilitation methods and techniques. In our ongoing series, find methods for your needs curated from the SessionLab library.
- Brainstorming techniques
- Leadership activities
- Online energizers
- Problem solving techniques
- Virtual team building activities
How to have more productive team meetings
As a facilitator, you’ll likely take part in facilitating everything from workshops to team meetings with both large and small groups. Helping facilitate effective team meetings is a great skill to develop and can improve your facilitation practice more broadly too. Find out more in this post on facilitating team meetings!
Over to you
Are any important facilitation skills missing from the list above? Do you have questions about something not covered in this post?
Let us know in the comments!
I have yet to read a more comprehensive, systematic and immediately applicable article on Facilitation! Invaluable! Thank you ????????????
You’re welcome, Franklin! I’m really glad that you’ve found the article useful!
This is a very good article. It responds to most of the questions I get for prospecting people to the Association of Facilitators. Thank you.
That’s great to hear, Jeanne! I’m glad to hear that you’ve found it useful :-)
wonderful article, i have understood the accountability, transparency and its systematic ideology of knowing a facilitator owes and often it encourages in orgonisations…
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Chance, great to see that the article inspired some further reflections :-)
Excellent knowledge that is spot on!! Appreciate the effort behind this.
You’re welcome, Chandan, awesome to see that you liked the post!
Super interesting article and the links to toolkits! much appreciated. Thank you so much
You’re welcome, Anna, great to hear you’ve found it interesting!
Wonderful article,thank you!
You’re welcome, Neda!
This blog post of facilitation skills is excellent! Thank you.
That’s great to hear! You’re welcome, Michelle!
thanks for putting great taught together. i now have deep knowledge on facilitation i will be using most of ideas in engaging my staffs
You’re welcome, Idirssa! Wishing best with your next sessions!
Hi Robert, your sharing is very practical. May i share it with my team of business leaders as we are asking them to become our internal trainers. Very challenging….
Thanks in advance.
You are more than welcome, Joseph – glad to see you’ve found it practical!
Hi, Robert! The article is very educative and will go a long way in helping my work. Bravo.
Awesome – happy to hear that it helped! :-)
Thank you for the helpful ideas. My experience is that facilitating when there’s a team with a well-understood, shared culture and goals is one thing, facilitating an ad hoc group of (e.g., citizens) on an issue, such as zoning requirements, is different. Two skills I think are required are: a) Either having subject knowledge or being adept at “learning the case” (i.e., becoming knowledgeable enough to make reasonable judgements as you guide the process); and b) Understanding the fundamental principles of “social learning” — the iterative exchange of knowledge between subject “experts’ and the most critical stakeholders.
The “social learning” process takes time, but enables the stakeholders to a) become empowered to influence the outcome, and b) more able to contribute well-informed opinions or ideas. Equally important, it enables the “experts” to absorb an understanding of the context (both concrete and social) so they can offer better advice.
I’ve watched way to many City planning processes go nowhere (or blow up) because a) the City staff hired a “neutral facilitator” who wasn’t neutral to begin with and whose professional obligation is to the City Planning Director; and b) the facilitator couldn’t provide productive meeting processes because she had no clue how comments were related, relevant or within reasonable sideboards.
In addition, neither the staff nor the facilitator had any understanding of the importance of “social learning” so very little exchange occurred.
Thank you, Paul, for sharing your perspective – I find your example super relevant to illustrate that being neutral as a facilitator is not the same as not being knowledgeable on the subject of a session. In fact, without thoroughly understanding what the group talks about, it’s nearly impossible to steer a discussion in a productive way!
Great thoughts about being aware of the social learning process – yet another important aspect of a facilitator’s skillset!
This article on Facilitation Skills is simply awesome. Thank you so much for providing essential insights on Facilitate Skills.
Happy to hear you’ve found it useful, Suren – wishing best with your next sessions!
Simply awesome article on facilitation skills.
Thank you, Subina, glad you liked it!
Great Information and very detailed.
You’re welcome, Harry, great to see that you liked it!
Hi there. very good guide for facilitators.
Thank you, Aluma – great to see you’ve found it useful!
This has been so useful to me. Allow me to share with my group of upcoming facilitators in family planning workshops.
You’re more than welcome, Hawa – great to see you’ve found some useful nuggets of insight here!
Your article is amazing! It captured all of my questions for transitioning from trainer to facilitator! This will be my go to as a guide.
That’s fantastic to hear, Paula – happy to see you’ve found this useful!
Hi Robert- this is so comprehensive and compact! May we use it for our Facilitation class this Spring at the University of Oregon? Thank you!
Happy to hear you’ve found it useful, Devin, you’re welcome to use it as a resource at your facilitation class!
This was an excellent read and is SO informative!!! So much information here that I needed and some things that I had not thought of. Thanks for this!!
You’re welcome, Lisa, great to see you’ve found the article useful! :-)
best on topic which I came about. Thanks
Great to see you’ve found it useful, Danie!
this facilitating process is clear and understandable thank you so much
Excellent article! You’ve clearly articulated so many of the foundational pieces of preparing and facilitating a group.
Thank you, Stephan!
Very useful article
This is amazing article and more indepth, detailed learning that i have come acrossed about facilitation, infact i have learn some basics, i appreciate the efforts here, thank you!
You’re welcome, Judith – great to see you’fe found it useful!
Crisp & comprehensive,I found this very, very useful as I embark on a training for academicians who now need to shift from lecture mode to facilitation mode.
Have you done any facilitation work in the teaching /academic context?
Thank, you Sindhuja, great to hear that you’ve found the guide useful. (As for your question, all my facilitation experience was in for-profit and NGO environment, so not in academia. Nonetheless, I believe that as long as the role of a facilitator is to lead/guide a group through a process to help achieve what the want, the skills and approaches above are valid for both context)
I love your site. My thanks for sharing such a good post. I was looking for thoughts on this topic last Thursday. I will come back to read more and inform my coworkers about your site.
Great and comprehensive article! Thank you! I just want to share with you how I structured the facilitator role when I trained facilitators (the specific skills were assigned to the specific role)
The question I answered was: what processes is the Facilitator responsible for, in order to make groups work in an effective way to achieve their common goal?
• Team Building Process
The Facilitator encourages the group members to know each other better, to cooperate and develop positive relationships in order to work together.
• Group Communication process
The Facilitator helps group members communicate effectively by overcoming communication obstacles, avoiding misunderstandings and conflict escalation
• Group Decision Making Process
The Facilitator helps group members make decisions in an effective way
• Participatory Planning Process
The Facilitator designs and guides the group members thinking through the logical path of the planning process stages. The Planning Process Stages logical sequence can be designed in different ways, depending on the context, the time available, and the complexity of the problems to be addressed.
I would need to use some schemes in order to show you the logic proposed when designing different planning/problem solving processes. If you give me an email address I can share one brochure I developed where this role (which is not mentioned in your article) is described.
– Are there some other skills that a facilitator must have for running online workshops effectively (to be added to the list).
– which skills would you put emphasis on among the list of skills mentioned in the article when the workshop is virtual?
This is one of the best articles I have read. Enriched me with a lot of knowledge.
Awesome! An excellent article on introduction to facilitation. Great learning!
Great article. Very comprehensive. Do you provide training to organizations on how to facilitate meetings? We are considering having HR professionals receive training on how to facilitate meetings as part of our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program, so they can effectively facilitate topics that may generate a lot of passion with differing points of view.
Great insight on facilitation skills Robert . I have been a practitioner for over 30 years and have learnt these skills the hard way .
Hi Mr. Robert, Superb article, it is simply awesome, If possible please help me with this
how facilitation skills used in different training groups such as:
1) executive trainees (management trainees) 2) mid-career trainees 3) in-house training 4) open training programs? What are the different skills to be used?
Robert, you did an extremely excellent job, hats down in your art of turning a novice into an expert, skillful facilitator.
Thank you, Johannes – great to see you’ve found the post useful!
Very informative and useful content! Thank you for the post!
Great work. I’ve found the article very rich and useful ????
How cool! I completely agree with all the other comments on the high quality of this article. It is soo good. Thank you for sharing. :)
You’re welcome, Kay – great that you found it useful :-)
Very meaningful and a great article on Essential Facilitation Skills. Highly informative and has covered all the aspect in depth. Thank You for sharing.
You’re welcome, Renjit!
Hello Robert, great piece to read and is so very helpful in every form.
Just a question: What according to you are three most important skills related to group facilitation and how do you think they can be best applied in a group?
super super super…article.
For me, it will be kept handy as a “ready reckoner”.🙏🙏🙏
What an inspiring “discovery” it has been to run across this most helpful article and walk-through on the ever-relevant topic of effective facilitation.
I just finished the digital invitation to a “Facilitators’ Workshop on Empowering Facilitation” (in Scandinavia) – and ran across SessionLab via my news stream.
I am encouraged to see how in-depth and ‘practically applicable’ you and your team have elected to remain in covering key topics related to the subject.
Thanks a million, and much Kudos to you for such a superb effort and offering!
Kristen L. Skogrand
Co-Founder & Senior Facilitator
EmpowerED.How (coming in Nov.:)