Meeting Facilitation Defined.

Posted by Kristin Arnold on January 18, 2012

It’s been 20 years since I started my business facilitating teams and training others to do what I do.  Back then, no one even knew how to spell “facilitator”, no less what a facilitator did!

As they say, we’ve come a long way, baby.  The root word, “facil” is latin for “make things easier”.  True enough, “Facilitator” is used all the time to describe anyone who “makes things easier”.

In the world of teams and meetings, a facilitator guides the process – helping the team get from Point A to Point B – the desired outcome.

Now, we all know that the shortest distance between two points is….a straight line.  But do teams march straight to the desired outcome?   I think not!  So a facilitator saves you time, money, and grief by providing process expertise, keeping the group on task, and fulfilling these main functions:

Clarify the charter.  The facilitator gets together with the sponsor and team leader to make sure they all understand the team’s goal(s) and expectations, the composition of the team, timeframes, deliverables, capabilities, and constraints.
Partner with the team leader.  Before the team ever meets, the facilitator gets together with the team leader and agrees on the basic strategies to move the team forward.  They will agree on how to prepare for and critique that meeting – or the series of meetings.  The facilitator then develops an initial agenda for the team to follow.
Guide the process.  As the process expert, you provide structure and process tools to help the team achieve its goal.  At the beginning of each meeting, ensure the team agrees to the agenda and time limits.  Keep the meeting on the topic and moving along.
Ensure a safe environment.  The facilitator thinks through the barriers to effective participation and how to ensure the environment is conducive to collaboration.
Manage participation.  The facilitator opens discussions and invites participation by all.  She tactfully prevents anyone from being overlooked or dominating the discussion.  She also summarizes and closes the discussions.
Intervene when necessary.  When the team gets off track or if the discussion fragments into multiple conversations, the facilitator will step in to bring the team back on topic.
Manage conflict constructively. All teams have some degree of “conflict” where each person has a different point of view.  Otherwise, why would you call a team together?  A facilitator helps the team hear and discuss these differing opinions to ensure they generate “light” around the issue and not “heat”.
Check decisions.  Teams make small decisions throughout the meeting.  When the facilitator senses that a decision has been made, he will check for understanding and agreement.  He then makes sure the team understands the next steps and who will do them.
Clarify next steps.  Every team meeting should end with specific tasks assigned to specific team members.  Otherwise, you have just had a great conversation, but no results!  The facilitator makes sure everyone understands who is responsible for what and by when.
Develop the team.  A facilitator’s secondary goal is to enable the team to function effectively over the long term – that all the team members have good facilitative and team skills.  This means that the facilitator is constantly training, coaching and developing the team leader and team members along the way.
Documents the discussion.  Most teams go through a predictable pattern of discussion: generation of ideas, organization/prioritization of those ideas to be able to select a quality decision to take action.  An external facilitator may document that discussion within a few days so the team can move quickly on their commitments.

When you have a facilitator performing these functions, the team stays much more focused on the desired outcomes, you take less time because the team doesn’t stray off topic, and you have greater commitment to the final decision.

Find out more about how we help you achieve your meeting objectives.

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