5 Principles of Facilitation

In its purest form, facilitation is about guiding a group of people through a conversation. In contrast to training, a facilitator focusses on process—not content. Facilitation is about asking great questions and allowing participants to decide on the answers.

Facilitation shows up in various contexts and can be seen in situations such as Strategic Planning, Community Engagement, Idea Generation, Problem-Solving, Consensus-Finding and Partnership Brokering. In its truest form, facilitation is the art of effective conversation.

When facilitating your next meeting or workshop, keep in mind the following principles:

1. Stay Neutral
When I first started facilitating, I remember a client telling me, “I need you to be like Switzerland” and it’s stuck with me ever since. The role of a facilitator is to:

a) Frame the topic, problem or idea to be explored.
b) Manage the process, so that the topic can be explored in a useful way, and then
c) Stay neutral about the outcome!

If you are being asked to facilitate a conversation where you are impacted by the outcome AND you have a strong opinion about what that outcome should be, then you might not be the best person for the job. It’s important to recognise when you are neutral enough to facilitate something yourself and when you need to bring in an external facilitator.

2. Be Okay with Conflict
I’m not suggesting that you need to be okay with heated arguments that involve disrespectful or inappropriate behaviour. However, I am suggesting that you need to be okay with people disagreeing—and even debating—different points of view.

As a facilitator, it is your job to hold the space and make sure every person feels heard. Eventually, you may need to find consensus, but it doesn’t need to happen straight away. Be prepared with good processes, so that people can explore differing points of view in a constructive way.

3. Honour the Wisdom of the Group
A great facilitator recognises that the group holds all the wisdom, and the facilitator’s job is simply to bring it out. Unless you have been specifically invited as an expert in a particular topic, it’s not helpful for you to add your ideas or opinions. Remember Principle 1: Stay Neutral and trust that all the answers are in the room.

4. Reflect in Action
While it is important to be prepared and have a plan, it is equally important to reflect in action and make changes as you need to. A useful question to keep asking yourself is, “How can I best serve the group right now?”.

Sometimes that means taking a detour. Sometimes it means stopping the discussion for a breather or completing dropping a proposed activity. It is important to be able to think on the spot and introduce the most useful question or activity in the moment—even if it wasn’t on the plan!

5. Focus on the Future
While past context is important, and often necessary to frame up a conversation, it’s vital that you keep moving the conversation towards the future. I like to think through the lens of What? So What? Now What? as a way to keep moving the conversation forward. It can also be helpful to play in the space of possibility and imagination, before getting bogged down in the details.

Facilitation is a little bit art, a little bit science and a little bit magic. There are other useful principles to consider when facilitating group conversations, but if you begin with these five in mind, you’ll be off to a great start.

Kerri Price
Kerri is a professional facilitator with over 20 years experience in facilitation roles. She is the founder of The Facilitators Network and regularly facilitates workshops on Facilitation and Building a Facilitation Business.
Email: kerri@thefacilitatorsnetwork.co.nz

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  1. Pingback: What is Facilitation? | The Facilitators Network

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