JMReid Group Blog

Alex Nates-Perez
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In every organization a significant amount of time is spent in meetings and training workshops. Much of this time is less effective than it could be.  Improving facilitation skills for those leading meetings and trainings leads to more productive time spent.

A well-run meeting requires an awareness and ability to effectively facilitate a group.  In-house facilitation capability and  appreciation for those skills can transform how successful meetings are run – and the value  being created.  The focus shifts from activity to outcome driven meeting design and management.  A skilled facilitator will ensure that  time is being used wisely as they drive the various desired outcomes.

In terms of training facilitation, there is a major shift underway.  The old model of “training facilitator as teacher” comes from the 1960’s.  This model taught that the facilitator controlled the knowledge, and participants were there to listen and absorb. This approach was effectively replaced in the ‘80s by the facilitative model, in which the job of the facilitator is to ask questions to service  the participants’ self-discovery towards the best path forward.  

Today, however, if training facilitators are to be effective in a highly complex and fast pace environment, they must provoke and challenge participants and add insight.  They need to possess all of the fundamental facilitation skills plus new, emerging skills.

The latest and greatest idea is that the facilitator should  provoke, challenge and be a provocateur;   a change agent whose works, ideas and classroom activities can be regarded as a threat to accepted values or practices. Provocation doesn’t come in a single flavor, and making trouble for the sake of making trouble isn’t beneficial. In the case of learning, provocation means challenging and changing existing perspectives, mental models and unproductive behaviors. It means  the facilitator is less concerned with the participant’s comfort and more interested in the level of challenge and learning  occurring.

What are facilitation skills?

Facilitation skills, at the core, are the ability to work with groups in order to create ownership and accountability among each participant.  Effective facilitation requires the facilitator to understand group dynamics, leverage a variety of group process tools and create an environment that fosters critical thinking. The role of a successful facilitator depends on the robustness of their facilitation tool-kit.  There is no one correct way to facilitate group activities – and so it is critical that a process facilitator have several tools up their sleeve.

Facilitation skills are also critical in a learning environment, where we are striving to harness the wisdom of participants. In adult learning, effective facilitation skills are far more critical than a  good platform or presentation skills.  An effective facilitator needs to be able to:

  • Frame topics for the participant, recognizing the tensions and trade-offs to explore
  • Provides clarity on key points, solicits thoughts from the group. When the point is made, closes down the conversation and moves forward
  • Confidently share research and its implications to challenge learners’ points of view
  • Demonstrate an understanding that learning starts with mindset, mental models and beliefs
  • Command broad-based familiarity with the topic area from a variety of sources
  • Operate as guide on the side, not a sage on the stage

What happens during Facilitation Skills Training?

Meeting facilitation skills starts with the awareness that the majority of problems related to meetings have to do with process, not content. There are a host of group process tools and techniques that effective meeting facilitators learn and apply.  A facilitation skills program will include:

  • The role of a facilitator moving from basic skills to a more advanced role
  • Managing group discussions
  • Preparing an agenda that drives whole group engagement
  • Considering ground rules and how to have the group create them
  • Strategies to build ownership among attendees
  • Key communication skills including: active listening, paraphrasing and questioning
  • Reading the room for body language, whole group dynamics and problem solving
  • Effectively dealing with difficult situations and other facilitation techniques

Facilitation skills for a learning facilitator mirrors much of what is offered for participants who want to improve their meeting facilitation skills. Many of the same facilitation skill apply here. However, in addition to the above a facilitator of a learning program will receive training in:

  • Running a training session
  • Using and leveraging ice-breakers
  • Creating buy-in for a particular point of view or approach
  • Managing the dynamics and energy of both small and large groups
  • Articulating and cementing key points from the learning activity

Who needs facilitation skills?

Whether the setting is a corporate boardroom, offsite conference room, or a team meeting, facilitation skills are essential for anyone who leads and wish to create an environment of productivity and respect. Facilitation skills are also invaluable to internal business process consultants as well as any other staff support employees who need to effectively collaborate in order to deliver results.

Learning effective facilitation skills are also valuable to internal delivery resources, employees who are tasked with communicating training content. These skills can be particularly of value to subject matter experts who have deep content knowledge, but lack the ability to transfer this knowledge effectively.

Facilitate means to “make an action or process easy or easier”. Anyone in an organization who relies on completing their work within a group can benefit from facilitation skills.  These essential skills heighten the ability to pay attention in meetings and trainings, ultimately  helping the group become more productive.

Facilitation Skills with JMReid Group

We are known for the quality and depth of our facilitation team.  Many of our clients utilize our facilitation network to deliver their internal training content.  We have provided  highly skilled facilitators to clients for their on-boarding and skill-based programs.  We often provide extra capacity to their internal facilitation capability.

In addition we are often asked to facilitate high-stakes group meetings, where difficult situations are anticipated based upon group dynamics.  In this case we partner with an internal sponsor to create clear desired outcomes, and  build an agenda from there.  The design typically includes a number of small and large group activities designed to create alignment and agreement.

During a JMReid Group facilitation skills program there is always a “play within a play” occurring. The facilitator is modeling the skills while facilitating learning about the skills.  This approach enables the participants to experience in real time the power of the skills and to better understand how to demonstrate them. 

 We have delivered successful facilitation skills training for account executives who lead client meetings, change agents and agile internal resources who require these skills and  internal trainers, looking to challenge and engage their participants.  

Consistent with our overall approach to learning we follow a couple of key principles:

  • Context is King: We partner with our clients to ensure that the content is relevant for the learner
  • Wisdom in the Room: We recognize that participants are not empty vessels waiting to be filled, but rather talented professionals looking to become skilled facilitators
  • Engaging Learning Works: Facilitation training, like all soft-skills training, should be fun and highly engaging. Engaging training sessions helps people to be open-minded and more willing to consider new ideas and approaches.
  • People Aren’t Sheep: To get rid of fleas, sheep are dipped into a flea bath. To improve facilitation skills, you can’t just dip participants into a training program. To avoid learning decay we work with our clients to create a training session that occurs over time and includes sustainment. (I don’t know about this reference)

We would value the opportunity to help your employees help your broader organization through the power of better facilitation skills.  Let us share our passion with you.

To learn more about the JMReid approach to facilitation skills, take a look at our different offerings.