The Seven Skills Mastered By Effective Facilitators

In order for Facilitators to ensure their groups deliver to the best of their ability they need to master a set of seven skills. These is in addition to the preparation and development of how a workshop is structured which is often over-looked by clients and workshop attendees.

1. Leading

It’s down to the facilitator to determine how they are going to lead the group from their starting position through to a successful outcome of achieving all that they set out to do and with a detailed understanding of what they need to do next.  Developing a plan to follow after initial discussions with the client allows the facilitator to be prepared in terms of knowing what they aim to do and when.  As they witness for themselves how the group operates it’s essential that they stay flexible and prepared to modify their plan accordingly.

2. Listening

Facilitators need to keep a constant ear out for what is and isn’t being said within the group both directly to themselves when leading discussions and in asides between group members.  This allows them to gauge the temperature of the group as it’s not always the words that are being said but the manner in which they are being spoken that gives away whether the group is on track to deliver what it needs to achieve or not.

3. Challenging

Sometimes it’s necessary to introduce some alternative opinions or viewpoints to stimulate discussion.  Depending on the situation this may come from within the group as a matter of course and in this case the facilitator needs to pay close attention to ensure the discussion continues to be productive and no-one appears to be threatened by it.  At other times it may be appropriate for the facilitator to throw in some contrary opinions in order to stimulate debate when excessive group think prevails or new ideas are required.

4. Creating a Safe Environment

Being in a safe environment both physically and emotionally are key to getting the best out of a facilitated group session.  Part of this is being abundantly clear from the outset what the boundaries are in terms of what can and can’t be discussed.  In many cases it may be appropriate to encourage open discussion providing individuals take into account others within their group.  At the start of a session it makes sense to establish a code of conduct or acknowledge one that the group is used to.  If appropriate, the facilitator needs to be aware of individual’s roles and any hierarchies in play and just how much open discussion is really to be encouraged or is expected by the group.

5. Supporting

The whole purpose of having a facilitator work with a group is to enable all members of that group to contribute towards the desired goal.  Whereas individual members of the group may have the skills needed to facilitate themselves they need to put that aside in their own heads and concentrate on the tasks at hand.  The facilitator needs to ensure that all group members get to contribute and structure the session accordingly.

6. Summarizing

No matter how long a facilitated session is it’s incredibly helpful for group members if they are reminded along the way why they are there and what they are aiming to achieve before they pack up.  The facilitator will have planned ahead of time how the session will have been broken down and it helps people if they’re made aware of this as they progress by signposting what they’ve achieved and what else they need to do.  As group discussions progress the facilitator should summarize as they go along to prevent unnecessary diversion.

7. Trusting the Group

At the end of the day the group itself will have achieved whatever it is they aimed to achieve and they should go away with a feeling of ‘we did that’.  The facilitator must not get involved in group discussions apart from directing flow and the process otherwise they run the risk of becoming part of the solution arrived at by the group.  Chances are the facilitator will not be around to carry forward the work that the group has achieved so it is unprofessional to be playing a contributory part in the outcome.

Effecetive facilitators keep a constant view of how a session develops with a focus on moving the group to a successful completion in the timescales agreed up front.  It’s surprising just how much can be achieved by a group in a relatively short space of time when it’s properly planned and the facilitator keeps things moving in the right direction.


3 thoughts on “The Seven Skills Mastered By Effective Facilitators

  1. Paul,
    This is a great summary of what a facilitator does. I particularly like the way you stress the use of the core skills such as challenging, supporting and summarising rather than the use of fancy tools and techniques.


  2. I like this. Facilitation is such an art. Many people don’t realise that the concept of ‘holding the space’ and being accutely aware of what is being said and not being said is vital.

    My favourite way of facilitating is to keep a light hand on the tiller. It’s great to see a group starting to take ownership of an issues and lead on it themselves.

    These seven points are a great reminder of the work of a facilitator.

    • Thanks Liz. A light hand on the tiller is a good way of putting it. Once groups take responsibility themselves you can stand back and be left as a timekeeper and keep checking everyone stays engaged – a sign of success.


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