Sometimes the facilitator seems like the Controller, responding to every comment made by anyone. That is the role of The Teacher and it is what a professor is paid to do and expected to do, though not in a pompous or longwinded fashion. It is not what anyone wants or expects on a work team or in a community forum, unless there is an expert brought in to help us all understand. Sometimes the facilitator seems like a Comforter, a person who makes me unafraid to express myself and interested in others.
What are the functions of a facilitator?
The best facilitator:
- keeps the conversation focused on the topic at hand.
- never lets a thread drop.
- does not allow one blowhard to dominate.
- draws out the shy ones.
- moves the discussion forward when needed.
- lets the discussion dwell when appropriate.
- assists the group toward wise decision-making.
- anticipates the end of the time allotted and draws the discussion toward conclusion.
- allows time at the end for logistics (e.g. setting the next meeting, double-checking on tasks, if any).
- sums up frequently with active listening to help the group learn collaboratively.
- watches the nonverbal atmosphere of the individuals and the sense of the group.
- checks in with the group to determine levels of agreement or dissension, satisfaction or tension.
- ends the session on time and well.
If you leave the room angry, the facilitator may have done something to irritate you or may have failed to stop others from doing so. There are groups and individuals who make facilitation without annoyance nearly impossible, but a good facilitator can reduce that greatly. The skill bank includes, but it not limited to:
- setting ground rules for inclusion (varies with the sense of the group and facilitator).
- moderating gently but firmly.
- frequently telling the group what it has said or decided ("What I am hearing is...")
- respectfully insisting on fewer contributions from the most voluble.
- gently asking for perspectives from the quiet ones.
- reminding the group of its goal.
- reminding the group of its time limits.
- reminding the group of its logistical needs.
- sensing when a break is needed.
Unless the gathering is a classroom with a professor or a work meeting without an outside facilitator, the facilitator should not express opinion about the content nor say much at all except to function to help the group stay on task and performing well. Even in a working meeting, the facilitator is often the person who has the least to say and who can focus on the group expressing itself.
At the heart of the facilitator challenge is group process, not ego of the individual. It is care for all, not just the bright ones or the garrulous ones. If a group leaves the meeting with more cohesion, that is a strong sign of great facilitation.