What Exactly Is a Facilitator and How Can They Help You?

If you are a business owner, you know how important communication is in being successful. If you are unable to effectively speak with your employees, the results can be disastrous for overall company productivity and performance. If you need help getting messages across more efficiently in monthly staff meetings or if you require a complete overhaul of your firms existing practices, professional assistance is available. There is a wealth of experts (independent contractors and large-scale corporations) that specialize in the niche of facilitation. Known simply as facilitators, these people are skilled in the art of corporate communication. They have a unique skill-set that can address and fix many common workplace issues, including dispute resolution, leadership enhancement, lack of member participation, action planning and strategy development.

What does a Facilitator do and Why do you need One?

The field of facilitation is so diverse that most professionals tend to specialize in a specific area, although many are qualified to teach and train clients across the board. No matter what industry you work in, the benefits of hiring a corporate facilitator are too great to pass up. In this economy, there is very little room for miscommunication errors; one wrong move and a project can be set back, resulting in lost profits and lost customers. Thus, when you hire a facilitator to reorganize your company’s practices, you are making a solid long-term investment. The great thing about facilitation methods is that they can easily be learned and applied by business owners and designated team-lead employees. There are many corporate facilitation firms that offer training seminars and hands-on sessions in this regard, so be sure to research your options. Here are just a few of the benefits that hiring a facilitator can bring to your firm!

The Benefits of Hiring a Facilitator

  • They can help find solutions to problems when you have run out of ideas
  • They can a fresh perspective and unbiased third-party insight into your company’s existing organizational methods
  • They can mobilize employees and make them want to participate; uninterested or unruly staff is a problem many business owners face, and it is not always easy to resolve these issues
  • A facilitator will help increase your bottom line; when productivity and profit are at stake, expert help is a must-have resource
  • Most facilitators offer training sessions or courses that can give owners and key employees the skills they need to employ effective facilitation methods long after the contractor is gone

Managing Science and Research

Managing science and research requires a unique skill set that are not the same as general management skills required for other types of businesses.  General management theory is applicable to science and research management, but not sufficient to cater for the specific requirements of science and research management.  For that purpose we assume in this article that the reader is already familiar with general management principles and approaches.  Our focus here is to look at the specific requirements of science and research management.

An important aspect is understanding what would constitute good science and how to create an environment that would allow the knowledge generation aspect of science and research to flourish.  Important aspects that differ from general management principles are:

  1. Quality assurance often supersedes the process-focused approach in organization generally.  Especially where the problems are not standard and therefore require unique approaches to be solved, it is very difficult to provide consistent quality assurance and performance indicators.
  2. Science and research management requires a careful balance between investment and creating utility for current use.  Unless a considerable effort is made to constantly invest in more capabilities and growth of existing capabilities, management of science and research finds itself over the medium term with an increasingly stale and unproductive scientific research capability.  This requires a financial management approach that does not optimise for short term profit only, but also caters for the capability building of ongoing the investment.
  3. The people performing the science and research work are usually a scarce commodity, and replacing them require considerable investment of both time and money.  For this reason retention and ongoing development of existing experts needs to be a focus in the business model (this is true for all knowledge-intensive innovative environments).
  4. The work environment need to enable innovative and creative work, and facilitate and value team work.  The performance indicators for these are often difficult to define (they might even be intangible).  But giving attention to them and getting them right for the specific type of science and research work is very important for a successful science and research capability.

In addition to all of this there is the aspect of “managing science where it happens”, namely to ensure the scientific work itself is of a good quality and make the best use of the available capabilities.  Usually this is catered for by the various conventions that scientists and researchers of specific disciplines adhere to professionally.

However, the various sciences have a number of differences and commonalities that make maintaining the scientific rigour when work is done in more than one of the major branches of science very difficult.  For this reasons many research capabilities either restrict themselves to only selected branches of science, or they retain the barriers between the various sciences and never really get to an integrated scientific capability that spans across the boundaries of the sciences.  In the complex and highly connected societies we live in that is becoming an increasingly untenable situation.  We need to be able to integrate the sciences to be able to provide relevant and useful new knowledge, utilising the best that science offers. Using science in an integrated way  unlocks most value in situations like this.  We need to keep in mind that

  • All the sciences share a common goal to search for the “truth”, or “facts”, or “evidence.  This common goal provides the background against which we are able to identify a number of similarities.
  • There are some legitimate differences between the sciences that we cannot remove by forcing one approach on all the branches of science.

Accomplishing this is not easy. However, there are two sets of features that are common to all branches of the sciences.  They can be used in all branches of science to ensure that we are able to integrate our scientific work across the traditional branches of the sciences.  They are

  • The scientific productiveness features:  These are the features of science that facilitate its success in knowledge generation.  Knowledge can be generated in a number of ways, but these science has illustrated over the centuries that where these features are present and used appropriately they facilitate a level of success that is not otherwise possible.
  • The Scientific Capability Features:  These are the features that describe the way to go about knowledge generation utilising the scientific productivity features.

We have used these two for integrated scientific work in a number of cross-disciplinary applications (mostly to solve complex real life problems in strategic management decision making).  They have proven themselves to add value in the rigor, quality and relevance of cross-disciplinary scientific work.

Strategy Facilitator: Align Organizational Thinking

Organizations hold meetings for a number of different reasons. Whether the organization is looking to tackle a major problem or wishes to focus on new objectives, meetings are a great way to get everyone within the organization on the same page. Yet businesses might find that if the meeting is not lead effectively, it will be inefficient and ultimately ineffective. While companies might be tempted to put an organizational leader in charge of a gathering, it is better if they hire a facilitation expert. Depending on the company’s need, experts can be found that specialize in a number of areas, like a teambuilding facilitator or a strategy facilitator.

What do these experts offer?

Facilitation experts provide support before and during the meeting.

How do they prepare before meetings?

Prior to the meeting, these professionals will research the company and the problems it hopes to address by interviewing the organization’s leaders. When a teambuilding facilitator is brought in, he or she might sit down with members of the group individually to try to learn if personality conflicts or biases are holding back productivity. Similarly, a strategy facilitator could meet with organizational leaders to understand the current strategy and how it aligns with the company’s goals. Using the information collected from interviews and independent research, the professional will prepare a comprehensive report that participants will receive before the day of the discussion. With this information, everyone will be on the same page and the facilitator will not have to worry about working with a group in which nobody can see the big picture.

What is their role during the meetings?

These professionals are primarily in charge of leading the discussion. The big reason that internal employees should not handle this task is because they might bring their own biases into the room. Internal employees might allow certain individuals to dominate the conversation and might even put down or reject certain ideas before others have had a chance to respond to them. Consequently, potential solutions are never considered and individuals will even become reluctant to speak up. The facilitator will use a previously prepared agenda to make sure that certain topics or questions are covered, and will direct the discussion back on-topic if the group goes off on a tangent.

The above-mentioned are general duties covered as some facilitators will handle specific tasks, depending on the type of meeting. A strategy facilitator will have to make sure that a consensus is reached when the team thinks that it has determined a strategic direction to follow. He or she must also ensure that all team members understand their role in helping the organization reach its goals. A teambuilding facilitator will teach and lead exercises or games that companies can use to develop teambuilding skills. This individual might also have to settle personality conflicts, usually by addressing the problem rather than the personalities.

To find a strategy facilitator or teambuilding facilitator that will help the company reach its goals, organizational leaders should consult an online database to find individuals with the right mix of training and experience from similar companies.

Presentation Skills: Be More Productive Using a Facilitator Mode

There are many definitions for presentations. When you present there are also many different modes you can focus on. Are you a facilitator or an educator? The mode of facilitator is often misused in the corporate world and interchanged with words like trainer and educator. Facilitation is an exceptional skill, once you learn this skill you can boost your productivity and it can make you a better presenter.

A true facilitator is all about creating an environment where people feel safe and able to share their ideas freely. I believe the facilitator’s role is to act as a conduit. The first process a facilitator will undertake is to create operating agreements with their audience. It is the facilitator’s role to remove any blockages and conflicts within the group. They allow the thought processes of the group to be processed and expressed. They are responsible for establishing an environment that does that.

If this is a mode you are interested in developing yourself, the main proficiencies for this mode include:

Removing personal agenda – a facilitator’s role is to set the agenda with the group, not be running their own personal agenda. It is more powerful to seek to fill the agenda of the team and you will be more engaging to your audience.

Creating trust – this can be established in many ways for a presenter. It can occur before the presentation with communications circulated to the attendees, it can be built into the introduction for the facilitator and it can also be established when the agenda is set.

Respecting diversity – valuing each person’s input and recognising the variety of expertise and experience within the audience is the sign of a great facilitator.

Having active listening skills – one of the most important skill for any facilitator is the need to be able to listen and process what the audience is saying … and quickly. Listening intently will assist this.

A good facilitator may take several hours or days to create an environment where all the work may finally come together in the last hour. Don’t be fooled … some may think a facilitator comes into a presentation or meeting unprepared but that is not the case. An exceptional facilitator spends time preparing by taking a comprehensive brief from the client, researching the group/audience they will be working with and determining the questions that need to be asked to facilitate the best environment.

A quick note: Many organisations choose to bring in external facilitators to work with teams to achieve objectives. An external facilitator is neutral, doesn’t participate in office politics and is not influenced by the management hierarchy. If you team is grid locked or not co-operating, an external facilitator can be a great solution for you.

In a true facilitation style you may not even have the first question for your audience! Every discussion is a question i.e. does this feel right for you? Every facilitator should have an arsenal of great questions in their tool kit. Those questions include:

How is that working for you?

How do you feel about that?

I’m having trouble understanding that?

Does anyone want to add anything to that?

What’s that a part of?

If you knew the answer to that, what would it be?

In your experience, is that correct?

Does that ring true for you?

What do you need to get more out of this?

So what else is coming up?

If you had more time, what would the answer be?

If you knew the answer, what would it look like?

What is the biggest problem with the world?

What is the biggest issue with the world?

Facilitators are able to hold the space in tension to understand. They don’t try to fill the silence. They are able to capture conversations, check people’s understanding and expose all opinions. Learning questioning techniques will increase your mastery of this mode.

Here is a Facilitation checklist for you to help build your skills in this mode ask yourself the following questions:

Do you have an arsenal of questions?

Are you an active listener?

Can you “hold the space” in the tension?

Can you continually ask questions rather than try and find solutions to the discussions?

When you master this facilitation mode you will become a more powerful and engaging presenter. This skill can assist you when you have a tough audience, when you need to change the environment and when you are helping a client find a solution.