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A facilitator is someone who skillfully helps a group of people understand their common objectives and plan to achieve them without personally taking any side of the argument. The facilitator will try to assist the group in achieving a consensus on any disagreements that preexist or emerge in the meeting so that it has a strong basis for future action.
The role has been likened to that of a midwife who assists in the process of creation but is not the producer of the end result.
The basic skills of a facilitator are about following good meeting practices: timekeeping, following an agreed-upon agenda, and keeping a clear record. The higher-order skills involve watching the group, its individuals, and their process, and knowing the art of intervening in a way that adds to the group's creativity rather than taking away from it.
A successful facilitator embodies respect for others and a watchful awareness of the many layers of reality in a human group.
In the event that a consensus cannot be reached then the facilitator would assist the group in understanding the differences that divide it.
The role of a facilitator
Some of the things facilitators do to assist a meeting:
- Reminding the group of the amount of time remaining
- Helping the group decide what ground rules it wants to follow and reminding them of these when they are not followed
- Reminding the group of the objectives of the meeting or session
- Setting up a safe environment where members feel comfortable contributing ideas
- Guiding the group through processes designed to help them listen to each other and create solutions together
- Asking open-ended questions that stimulate thinking
- Tentatively paraphrasing individual contributions to check understanding and ensure they are heard by the whole group
- Tentatively summarizing a recent part of the discussion
- Recording agreements reached in large script on the wall so all can see and agree on the wording
- Recording the current issues within the group in large script on the wall using phrases agreed by the group
- Offering a possible wording for an unspoken question that may currently beset the group
- Ensuring the group doesn't settle for the first thing that they can agree on because they find it painful to go on disagreeing with each other
- Offering opportunities for less forceful members to come forward with contributions
- Ensuring that actions agreed by the group to carry out its decisions are written up in a large script on the wall for all to see and are assigned to individuals
Some things that facilitators don't do:
- Back a particular opinion voiced in the group
- Offer their own opinions
- Let the group unconsciously shy away from a difficult area
- Lead the group towards what he/she thinks is the right direction
Different roles of Trainer and Facilitator
Many people confuse the term facilitator and trainer. Unlike the facilitator the trainer does take an active role and guides the group through an agenda designed to transmit a body of knowledge.
- Sandy Schuman (Editor). The IAF Handbook of Group Facilitation: Best Practices from the Leading Organization in Facilitation. Jossey-Bass, 2005. ISBN 0-7879-7160-X
- Roger Schwarz (Author); The Skilled Facilitator; Jossey-Bass ; ISBN 0-7879-4723-7 (New & Revised July 2002)
- The International Association of Facilitators
- The International Association of Facilitators Methods Database
- The Group Facilitation Listserver at the University of Albany NY
- The Master Facilitator Journal: e-zine for facilitators
For other meanings of the word facilitator see Facilitator (disambiguation).
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