Great facilitators often use the following core skills: staying neutral, active listening, and asking open-ended questions to help groups work most productively. Here are five additional skills to help you keep your group interactions on track.
Start here: Define Meeting Purpose – Help the group determine how decisions will be made – consensus, majority rules, etc.? What are your expected meeting outcomes? What planning and preparation have you done to ensure these outcomes? How will you check that these have been met?
Stack and Track
“Stacking is a procedure for helping people take turns when several people want to speak at once.” (Kaner, 2014, p. 48) Determining speaking order will help you keep your meetings productive and allow everyone a chance to contribute. Tracking involves “keeping track of various lines of thought that are going on simultaneously within a single discussion.” (Kaner, 2014, p. 49) Ideas can get muddled in conversation and tracking helps delineate these.
Paraphrase and Check for Understanding
When meeting topics or issues are particularly complex or sensitive, or participants are finding it difficult to make a point, it can be helpful for the facilitator to intermittently paraphrase what has been said and check if this understanding is correct.
Meetings are often dominated by a few individuals; be sure to invite the participation and viewpoints of those who may be silent. You can encourage participation by “making space” (Kaner, 2014, p. 104) for quiet individuals, giving people time to reflect and respond by “tolerating silences” and “drawing people out” (Kaner, 2014, p. 105) through a wide range of open-ended questioning techniques including “tell me more…” or “give me an example…” (Kaner, 2014, p. 104)
You can effectively manage disagreement and conflict by listening, empathizing and clarifying what is being expressed (both ideas and feelings). These are opportunities to “depersonalize”, “question” and “paraphrase” and will help your team address important threats. Ask participants to “speak from their own perspective” (Kaner, 2014, p. 269) not for the group as a whole. Tools like SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) (Humphrey A., 2005) can help you give equal time to strengths as well as challenges and threats. Other tools like “appreciative inquiry” (i.e., a focus on facilitating positive change) (Cooperrider & Srivastva, 1987) can help you set your group up for success when you sense there might be discord.
Listen for Common Ground
“We seem to all agree that…” is a wonderful place to get to in any meeting. As consistent with the “Form, Storm, Norm, Perform” phases of team stages (Tuckman, 1965), listen for (and identify) places where there is emerging consensus.
Cooperrider D. L., Srivastva, S. (1987) Appreciative Inquiry in Organizational Life. Research in Organizational Change and Development, Vol. 1, pages 129-169. JAI Press Inc.
Kaner S., & Lind L., Toldi C., Fisk S., Berger D. (2014). Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
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