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Six Secrets to Superb Facilitation

Six Secrets to Superb Facilitation

Facilitation is an art. When done well, it adds value to the organization by reaching win/win outcomes efficiently. When done poorly, time and energy are wasted. Effective meetings, remotely and in person, typically have effective facilitators. Many organizations use internal employees to facilitate meetings which make good business sense as long as the employees know how to facilitate. Organizations also hire external facilitators for a variety of reasons; the meeting is highly confidential, the meeting participants are extremely challenging to work with, the content is challenging or there is no internal facilitator available.

The six secrets to superb facilitation include:

1.Identify a future state. In order for the facilitator to be effective, he/she must have a goal, a desired outcome to reach. That desired outcome is called the future state. The future state needs to be communicated at the beginning of the meeting. Meeting participants should know what their role is in the meeting and why they are invited to participate. When working with an internal or external client always asks, what will a successful outcome look like to you at the end of the meeting?

2.Follow a process. An effective facilitator is a process expert, not necessarily a content expert. There is a huge difference between content and process. A content/subject matter expert is in front of an audience because he/she usually knows more about the topic than anyone else in the room. A facilitator does not need to be a subject matter expert, they need to be a process expert. Their job is to keep the meeting participants on track to reach the determined future state. They need to pay attention to time, meeting dynamics and process issues. Trainers must be content and process experts. Trainers also need to know when to be the content expert and when to facilitate learning. A huge mistake that organizations make is to ask a SME to train others without teaching the SME how to facilitate.

3.Use tricks to maximizing employee participation. Effective facilitators use all kinds of tricks to reach the desired outcome.

  • Tent cards for names. It just makes it easier for the facilitator to remember everyone’s name. Name badges are too hard to read from a distance. A facilitator on a conference call should always have a list of who is suppose to dial in for the call. After the facilitator takes roll call on the phone, the facilitator should give the listeners some basic instructions. For example: After an issue is brought up, I’ll ask each individual listener for comments, that way we won’t all speak at the same time.

  • Flip charts, white boards or anything to write on is valuable. One flip chart page should be a Parking Lot. A Parking Lot is used to write down issues that come up during the meeting that aren’t relevant for the current meeting but are important issues that need to be addressed at a later date.

  • If participants are quiet, the facilitator might ask questions using names. John, tell us what you think about ABC? Or hand out note pads and ask participants to write answers down. The facilitator then collects the notes and reads to the group.

  • Use volunteers to increase participant engagement.

  • Separate participants into small groups to work on a problem.

  • Use a timer which everyone can see.

  • Pretend you are hosting a party at your home and your job is to make everyone feel welcomed and comfortable.

4.Manage the SME. Most meetings include subject matter experts. Some SME are obnoxious. One way to deal with an SME is to make them a partner and/or use them as a volunteer. Another way is to acknowledge their expertise and defer questions to them. Good facilitators find out who the SMEs are prior to the meeting and befriend them.

5.Stick to a schedule. Effective meetings have a schedule/agenda which should be distributed prior to the meeting. Some facilitators use a SPACER when starting a meeting. S is for a safety tip, P is the purpose, A is the agenda, C is code of conduct, E is for expectations, and R is for roles and responsibilities. The SPACER is written on a flipchart and posted where everyone can see it. If you don’t like the SPACER approach, you can ask the meeting participants to set some ground rules for the meeting. Common ground rules include: cell phones on vibrate, start and end on time, everyone contributes, no cursing.

6.Develop facilitation skills Very often during meetings there are difficult participants to deal with. A difficult participant might dominate the meeting, talk too much, yell, make inappropriate discriminatory remarks, cry or embarrass other participants. Sometimes the difficult participants are the senior members of the organization who have a lot of influence. Skilled facilitators need to have the confidence, knowledge and guts to manage tough situations and tough people. Conflict resolution, listening skills, using good judgment, remaining neutral, being flexible, and making participants feel comfortable are necessary characteristics for a facilitator. The facilitator’s role is to move people through a process to reach a future state. A skilled facilitator also needs to be able to think on his/her feet and anticipate issues, not everyone will be an effective facilitator. Some people just have more of a knack for it.



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