Facilitators: Seven Jobs in One

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who asked just the right questions at the right time, who maybe helped you think about things just a little differently, or perhaps helped to pull out some hidden thought gems you didn’t even realize were there inside your head? That’s the kind of “magic” a professional facilitator can do – but usually with a group of people instead of one-on-one.

If you’ve ever experienced a particularly well-run meeting or workshop where everyone got to participate, and that resulted in a clear way forward for your organization or group, you may have already encountered the power of facilitation. It’s a practice and an art that’s part of our work here at Engage Delaney.

This is International Facilitation Week and we’re celebrating by sharing our list of seven jobs or roles that a third-party facilitator fulfills. We’ve based this list on the International Association of Facilitators’ (IAF’s) “Core Competencies” – a framework of skills, knowledge and behaviours that successful facilitators must have.

1. Designer: The facilitation role usually begins with a detailed design of the event, meeting, forum or workshop’s format and content. Working with the organization, a facilitator seeks to understand the purpose, scope and desired outcome of the session, as well as the corporate environment and any unique requirements. Based on this understanding, the facilitator designs a process that will help lead the group to achieving its goals.

2. Event Planner: Facilitators are often concerned with the seemingly small details that can make or break your session. Is the room the right size, comfortable enough and clean? What’s the best arrangement of tables/chairs/groups to help reach the desired outcomes? Are there refreshments to help keep participants energized and alert?

3. Timekeeper: Here at D+A when we facilitate an event, our detailed agenda maps out exactly how the time will be spent – down to five-minute increments. We always leave room for a bit of flexibility to allow for topics or questions that might be of extra interest – but there’s one golden rule: Don’t go into overtime. Nobody wants to be kept past the scheduled meeting time. With experience and practice, professional facilitators will design and deliver a process that uses time effectively and keeps to the schedule.

4. Referee: Keeping with the sports analogy for a minute, a professional facilitator is also trained and experienced at managing dominant voices and giving everyone in the group opportunity to participate. Facilitators can help resolve group conflict and manage any disruptive behaviour that may occur.

5. Counselor: There are several aspects of facilitation that involve the qualities of a counselor or psychologist. Somewhat like a couples’ counselor, facilitators are neutral, third-parties that are there to guide and support group members towards a common goal. Facilitators are trained to help create an environment of safety and trust, they practice active listening, help build consensus and support the group through differences of approach and opinion.

6. Animator: Sorry – we don’t mean drawing cartoons. In this context, by “animate” we mean bring the event and its participants alive by using different activities, processes and approaches to stimulate energy and creative thinking. Effective facilitators can help draw out information and insights and, overall, help the group achieve its goals.

  7. Student: Last but not least, a professional facilitator is always learning. Often, facilitators plan some kind of evaluation mechanism into a session to help them reflect on what went well and what might be improved. They also engage in ongoing learning in the field of facilitation, and seek out new processes to help meet clients’ needs.

International Facilitation Week runs until Oct. 25. For more info, check out iaf-world.org/site/pages/international-facilitation-week.