The facilitator is a formal role with the primary responsibility of guiding the team toward its goal. A facilitator focuses on the process (the “how to”) rather than the content (the “what” the team is addressing). While there are plenty of content experts on the team, it is the facilitator’s job to make sure they get to where they need to go as efficiently and effectively as possible.
The Role of the Meeting Facilitator
As a facilitator, some of the key activities you need to be involved in are:
Clarify the Charter. Get together with the sponsor and team leader and make sure you (and they) 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, get together with the team leader and agree on the basic strategies to move the team forward. Some team leaders will need lots of support and coaching from you. Others will have a good sense of how to proceed. Regardless, you must meet with the team leader to ensure you are on the same sheet of music. Agree on how you will prepare for and critique each meeting. Develop an initial agenda for the team to follow. Agree on a “cue” to signal to each other when you should adjust the strategy or take a break to confer.
Keep on Track. 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.
Intervene when Necessary. When the team gets off track or if the discussion fragments into multiple conversations, you must step in to bring the team back on topic.
Manage Participation. Open discussions and invite participation. Tactfully prevent anyone from being overlooked or dominating the discussion. Summarize and close discussions.
Check Decisions. Teams make small decisions throughout the meeting. When you sense a decision has been made, check for understanding and agreement. Make sure the team understands the next steps and who will do them.
Develop the Team. Your secondary goal is to enable the team to function effectively without you. This means that you are constantly training, coaching and developing the team leader and team members. Initially, you may be very active and involved in all aspects of the team’s work. As the team matures, many of your responsibilities will be assumed by other team members. In a high-performing team, the facilitator role is shared among team members, and a designated facilitator may no longer be required.
If you prepare correctly, most of your work will be done in the planning, preparation, and debriefing of the meeting. The actual “facilitating” of the meeting becomes a small part of your involvement. A long-term measure of your success is that you are not required to intervene during the team meeting. The team facilitates itself.