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5 Top Tips to be a great facilitator

13th February 2015

There was a really interesting, quirky article in the Huffington Post yesterday about how schools in California are using ‘instructional coaches’ as a key way of helping teachers adapt their instruction to implement core, national standards in maths and English language.

It seems these specialized instructors provide a more in-depth and stronger layer of support to teachers and act as a really good ‘thought partner’. Thanks to these ‘thought partners’, teachers in California are seeing meaningful changes in the classroom, such as students engaging  more with one another by asking other students how they arrived at their answers on their homework assignments! As a result, the students are now turning to each other for advice and ideas, and there are now student ‘facilitators’, assigned to promote discussion and participation from everyone in the class. The kids are now relying on each other and their own reasoning, not that of the teacher.

OK, so this may be in a school environment, but the principles of what these instructional coaches or thought partners’ deliver, are based on those of good facilitation.

And if we take a look now at the workplace and business environment, facilitation is a way of providing leadership to a group without taking the reins – to get others to assume responsibility and to take ownership for developing and agreeing future actions. (Do you see my link with the school kids now?!).

Let me give facilitation a business context now, for the purposes of this blog: the worst thing about so many business meetings is that they’re often poorly run and so waste valuable time. This is where the benefits of great facilitation skills are realised.

Here are 5 Top tips to be a great facilitator:-

  1. Stay neutral on content

Your job is to focus on the process role and avoid the temptation of offering opinions about the topic under discussion.

Use questions and suggestions to offer ideas that spring to mind but never try to impose your own opinions on the group.

  1. Listen actively

Look people in the eye, use attentive body language. Always make eye contact with people while they speak and when summarising their ideas.

Use eye contact to let people know they are in line to speak next, and prompt the quieter ones in the crowd to participate.

  1. Ask questions

This is the most important tool you possess. Questions test assumptions, invite participation, gather information and probe for hidden points.

Use open questions: How? Who? When? Where? Why? What? Which?

Effective questioning allows you to delve past the symptoms and get to the root causes.

  1. Use the flipchart

The flipchart or whiteboard is a tool you should use regularly. It helps keep a visual track of emerging ideas as well as any final decisions.

Notes should be brief and concise. They must reflect what participants actually said, not your interpretation of what they said.

Check back with the person who made the contribution if you need to edit down or more succinctly summarise what they said. For example: “Thanks David. I’m going to record this as ‘Customers need more time with staff.’ Is that ok?”

  1. Play ‘ping pong’

Picture yourself standing at the flipchart with an imaginary table tennis bat in one hand…

If someone asks a question or makes a comment, redirect it by sending it back to someone else to answer or build on. This is a great way to get participants to interact with one another.

For example, “Sam, how would you answer the question that Helen has just posed to me?”

Want to read the rest of the Top Tips for Facilitation Skills?

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