The act of facilitation is to: make easier or less difficult; help move an action or process forward; assist a person to progress. The role of the facilitator in a workshop is thus to make it easier for the participants, to ensure that the process that the workshop is serving makes forward progress and the participants gain positively from the experience. An expert Facilitator, Racquel Boyd, reflects on key aspects that are important for the art of facilitation.

1. Being responsive:

Our team spent several days on the workshop design and preparation for this workshop for our client - a global giant in its sector. However, at one point during the workshop, it became apparent that they may not make the jump from a tactical to a strategic conversation that would link them into the thinking required for the following session. What to do? Stick to the planned design and hope for the best? Or redesign on the fly and try a different pathway?

During the next coffee break, the team convened, we shared our observations and made suggestions for a varied pathway that came to the same outcomes, but that replaced the switch with steps and a framework. We adjusted the next activity accordingly and the workshop flowed smoothly to the achievement of the outcomes.

If we had not been responsive to our observations of the participants, and had continued on our original design, would we have still achieved our outcomes? Possibly. Would we have left some participants behind, and not achieved the representative and cohesive outcomes that we needed? Probably!

The challenge for the Facilitator is to build rapport swiftly with participants; to be able to “read the room”. This is a key capability to bring to all facilitation engagements, along with the confidence to adapt and change with your observations.

2. When English is a second language:

The workshop included 25 participants from 12 different countries and with the exception of just a few, English was a second language for everyone.

The challenge for the Facilitator is to meet the needs of everyone:

  • to speak at a rate that allows the facilitator to be understood but not so slow that it is tedious to others

  • to enunciate so that their accent doesn’t impede a participant’s understanding,

  • to pause between instructions and concepts to give participants time to translate to a native language in their heads and have a level of understanding before proceeding, and

  • using plain common English vocabulary – no colloquialisms – to ensure consistency of understanding amongst the participants.

3. Leaders in the room:

Have you ever seen an old naval war movie where the Captain is preceded on deck by someone blowing a whistle? Everyone stands to attention … eyes front … silent. When you have multiple layers of leaders in a room, we can often see the same effect. We had global leaders around the table, sitting next to their manager, who was sitting next to their manager’s manager and across the table, their manager’s, manager’s manager. If we were on an old naval vessel that would have generated a lot of whistling and not much else!

The challenge for the Facilitator here is to ensure that senior participants do not dominate the conversations, nor direct the outcomes. Set ground rules for open, generative discussions. Encourage disagreement when it is respectful and robust. Play “devil’s advocate” and invite contrary views and suggestions.

The facilitator role is integral to allowing, encouraging and delivering outcomes with groups. KJA’s Facilitator team is available to design and/or deliver facilitated processes for groups large and small – locally or internationally.