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Do You Have What it Takes to Become a Fantastic Facilitator? Facilitation Basics for Supervisors

Raija Lahtinen
Do You Have What it Takes to Become a Fantastic Facilitator? Facilitation Basics for Supervisors

The original article was written by Raija Lahtinen in Finnish for Bonnier in June 2022, based on interview with Mirjami Sipponen-Damonte.

Through a goal-oriented approach, facilitators guide team processes while remaining as neutral as possible towards subject matter. Facilitators do not solve team problems or issues themselves. Facilitation can be an effective tool that promotes understanding and cooperation for various organisation supervisors.

1. Facilitation is Used to Improve Teamwork

Meetings often lack clear goals and effective guidance. This leads to individual and team objectives not being achieved on time. The purpose of facilitation – as the name suggests – is to facilitate cooperation and provide necessary guidance for teams. In general, facilitation enables and empowers teamwork while providing a range of methods and tools for better outcomes.

Organizations can utilize facilitation in innovation, decision-making, and in altered situations. Facilitation can also be used in traditional meetings, workshops, and both remote and hybrid meetings.

During facilitation, the group is guided to develop solutions for themselves. The facilitator acts as a guide who helps engage the group and steers them towards a common goal.

Through Facilitation, It Is Possible To:

  • improve cooperation
  • promote equal participation
  • utilize everyone’s potential
  • support autonomy of the group
  • increase motivation and commitment
  • increase well-being at work
  • promote staying on schedule
  • develop progress towards results

2. Various Methods and Schools of Thought

There are different schools of thought and methods concerning facilitation. There are also various types of paid and free applications that can be used to inform facilitation.

All Facilitation Methods Have Commonalities As They Are All Meant To:

  • provide structure
  • inspire goal orientation
  • be inclusive
  • promote interaction
  • support to stay on schedule
  • collect ideas and analysis of different perspectives
  • promote the facilitator’s role as a neutral party

When it comes to designing processes and making progress in the work environment, facilitation has many things in common with good leadership and good interaction skills.

Various methods can be applied when facilitating teamwork. Different platforms offer different whiteboards which can be used in tandem, effectively. On top of this, anonymity is ensured to enable participant ideas to be examined more objectively. This is a very democratic way to proceed.

– Certified Professional trainer Mirjami Sipponen-Damonte (MSEcon)

Mirjami also trains facilitation skills and considers it essential to make use of different facilitation methods responsibly.

It is important to understand the core idea of facilitation. For example, how everyone gets to participate in team development, and not just in parts of it. It is also important to know how to plan a facilitation process, and to ensure that it suits the goals of a specific workshop.

For over 15 years, Mirjami Sipponen-Damonte has facilitated and trained both local and international companies. These include manufacturing, technology, and gaming sectors, as well as both schools and universities. Sipponen-Damonte also holds the most distinguished facilitator’s certificate, received by the International Association of Facilitators (IAF).

Sipponen-Damonte continues to provide professional facilitation through her own company, Xpedio Oy. In 2020, her book – Varmuutta Fasilitointiin (Confident Facilitation) – was published in Finnish. She has also used her facilitation experience, skills, and tools to act as a Victim Offender Mediator.

In her trainings, Sipponen-Damonte provides participants with concrete methods they can use as facilitators in different situations. Moreover, she supports them in modifying methods to suit their own needs and objectives.

Choosing a suitable facilitation method often informs confidence and perspective. In the same breath, being able to understand participant behaviour allows people to recognize how to handle talkative or introverted people in a group, respectively.

There are many ways to facilitate. One of these ways is by utilizing Lego bricks. Amongst others tools, Sipponen-Damonte uses the “Lego Serious Play” in her work. Within this method, organizational problems are solved systematically and three-dimensionally with tangible Lego bricks.

There is a lot of research available concerning the connection between the way we think and how we use our hands. Lego bricks can be used to speed up these neuro thought processes. By enhancing creativity, this can help teams find solutions more effectively when compared to only using their words and PowerPoint slides. I use this method to help solve strategic questions such as those related to building common values. “Lego Serious Play” inspires everyone to participate which helps teams commit to taking action that is informed by common values.

3. Facilitation Directs and Promotes Inclusiveness

The role of a facilitator is to create optimal conditions for the success of team cooperation and interaction. Facilitators help the group outline a clear, overarching picture of the matters at hand. They purposefully guide the group while promoting an atmosphere of inclusiveness to assist in achieving a common goal. The facilitator is there to support the group by encouraging them to explore alternative solutions using the various types of data available. A facilitator helps ensure that goals are met within a mutually agreed upon timeframe.

When it comes to improving teamwork, the first step is always active listening.

A facilitator must listen to the team with full attention. The group should always first discuss an issue before proceeding with the actual subject.

Open-ended questions are among the best ways to support collaborative learning.

When the facilitator asks an open-ended question to initiate a group discussion, learning is encouraged from a team perspective instead of as individuals.

A common group dynamic challenge is that some members are more talkative than others. When this occurs, the task of the facilitator is mediate and balance participation so that there is space for introverts to be heard.

If a facilitator finds that reserved introverts are uncomfortable working in large groups, an easy action would be to combine a few individual tasks with group discussion. It is always beneficial to give everyone a moment to reflect. This way they can write down and structure their ideas, and discuss them in pairs or small groups. It is then easier to expand the discussion to a larger group once the topic has first been processed in smaller ones.

4. Creating Together

Sipponen-Damonte compares facilitation with more traditional style of management, which still exists in many work environments.

Traditionally, it’s believed that managers and supervisors hold more expertise and knowledge than other team members. In a traditional setup, matters of concern are prematurely processed for the team, after which solutions are implemented. In the modern world however, these matters can be complex and experts often have more information to work with than the managers themselves. Facilitation can therefore be used to support a self-directed work community.

Self-directed teams need different kinds of support throughout different phases. A facilitator can offer the support a team leader needs to move their teams towards desired outcomes.

When the direction and working principles are clear, experts are able to work on their own goals. Facilitation presents a concrete way to promote inclusiveness as it utilizes shared idea creation and problem solving. As a by-product, team members are more likely to engage when asked for their opinions and perspectives. Facilitation supports true change and participation, early on.

5. A Facilitator is Impartial

The idiosyncrasy of facilitation is that the facilitator does not intervene on subject matters being discussed. Instead, they simply direct the group as neutrally as possible. For this to happen, the facilitator must trust in the experience and expertise of the others, and encourage all participants to do the same.

The facilitator must be careful not to influence the output of the group.

Therefore, They Should Not:

  • take a stand regarding the subject matter
  • pursue their own goals
  • criticize
  • belittle or dismiss the views of the participants
  • dictate solutions

It is easier for the facilitator to both direct the group process and promote staying on schedule when they don’t participate in the discussion themselves. It is also easier to create and maintain a safe environment and atmosphere when the facilitator refrains from presenting their own views or choosing sides.

A common question posed by those who have been trained by Sipponen-Damonte, is whether or not it is possible for a facilitator to remain completely neutral.

My trainees all have very diverse backgrounds. My advice is for them to be aware that when facilitating, it is impossible to achieve complete neutrality. A facilitator will always carry with them their own thoughts and feelings.

According to Sipponen-Damonte, the most important factor is to be aware of how one’s actions can affect the group. This way, the facilitator can analyse their own actions properly.

As with great leadership in general, it is good to be aware of your own behaviours and their impact. You must consider how communication is carried out, as well as what to focus on and develop with regards to your own actions.

It is important for the facilitator to recognize the reason behind any urge to present their own views. Is it because you wish to usher the group in the right direction, or because you are in love with your own idea and are looking for praise?

Sipponen-Damonte advises to separate showing direction, from moments of pure facilitation. In one group, sharing your ideas may beneficial, but in another – practising refrain may be more appropriate. You can also think about waiting to share your ideas only after team members have provided theirs first.

The team leader should be very clear on whether they are presenting something other team members can build upon, or whether they are merely communicating a matter that already discussed to resolution.

Sipponen-Damonte reinforces that a team leader who acts as a facilitator always has a lot of influence. They decide the process design. This relates to what methods to use, what to ask from the team, what criteria to follow when evaluating ideas, and how much time to spend.

For example, we could say that the organization has a strict budget. In this instance, if costly ideas are presented by team members, the facilitator could share an evaluation framework to be filled in. This can include an evaluation of ideas from a cost-perspective, and how well the different proposals presented contribute to solving the issue.

6. Avoiding Pitfalls

Facilitation isn’t without its hazards or challenges. It can become difficult to reach goals when too much self-direction leads to chaos, or when one is trying to proceed with a topic that is too broad from the beginning.

4 Common Pitfalls and Ways They Can Be Avoided:

1. Not having clear goals, planning properly, or understanding what a meeting is intended to achieve.

– A broad strategic goal should be approached step by step.

2. Improper phasing. Time runs out, which leads to frustration.

– You need to be realistic about the time needed to reach the goal and to process the topics.

3. The leader has already decided but pretends that others could influence the outcome.

– To progress forward and to keep trust alive, tapping into the potential of others is vital.

4. The decisions made during the meeting are not proceeded with.

– Always consider how the workshop output should be utilized and remember that inclusiveness involves responsibility.

7. Core Competencies of the Facilitator

1. Plan appropriate group processes

a. select clear methods and processes

b. prepare time and space to support group process

2. Create collaborative client relationships

a. develop working partnerships

b. design and customise processes to meet client needs

c. manage multi-session events effectively

3. Guide groups to appropriate and useful outcomes

a. guide the group with clear methods and processes

b. facilitate group self-awareness about its task

c. guide the group to consensus and desired outcomes

4. Create and sustain a participatory environment

a. demonstrate effective participatory and interpersonal communication skills

b. honour and recognise diversity, and ensure inclusiveness

c. manage group conflict

d. evoke group creativity

5. Build and maintain professional knowledge

a. maintain a base of knowledge

b. know and apply a range of facilitation methods

c. maintain professional standing

6. Model positive professional attitude

a. practice self-assessment and self-awareness

b. act with integrity

c. trust group potential and model neutrality

Source:

https://www.iaf-world.org/site/sites/default/files/Revised%20IAF%20Core%20%20Competencies%20-%20December%206%202021.pdf

The International Association of Facilitators IAF has also defined a Code of Ethics for the industry. Sipponen-Damonte recommends becoming familiar and staying up-to-date with them.

Facilitation is about participatory and neutral guidance. Instructions may seem self-evident at first, but using these guidelines can help you think about how to approach situations where doing ‘the right thing’ isn’t entirely clear-cut. The Code of Ethics are therefore a great resource for increasing personal awareness and developing your own actions. Because issues and problems can arise quickly, having already internalized these instructions empowers the facilitator to react in an informed and responsible way

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