What are the Responsibilities of a Facilitator?

In the case study that started this chapter, we indicated that there are a number of different roles for a facilitator:

Meeting Adviser – The facilitator helps the leader plan the meeting, but during the session, he primarily sits on the sidelines, stepping in only when asked or if a situation occurs which the participants cannot handle themselves.

Meeting Manager – The facilitator sets the agenda, establishes ground rules, initiates the discussion, and allows the session to flow, stepping in only when needed.

Meeting Leader – The facilitator sets the agenda, establishes ground rules and initiates the discussion just as the meeting manager does.  In addition, however, he is active in getting participants excited about participating.  The facilitator describes the purpose of the session in terms that gives the participants a much bigger picture of the importance of the session.  In addition, he is active in ensuring that all participants engage in the discussion.  The facilitator challenges the participants when the discussion appears to remain at a high level.  And, from time to time, the facilitator offers insights that may be otherwise overlooked.

Participating Facilitator – The facilitator starts out much like a meeting manager, setting the agenda, establishing ground rules, and initiating the discussion.  But the facilitator also actively engages as a participant in the discussion, frequently offering his own views, giving opinions on topics, and expressing disagreement with various comments.

Each of these roles is valid for support of a meeting.  However, in our organization we focus on the facilitator as Meeting Leader.  When you serve as the facilitator in this role, we believe you have seven specific responsibilities:

Guide You must know the steps of the process the group will execute from beginning to end.  You must carefully guide the participants through each of the step.

Motivator From the rousing opening statement to the closing words of cheer, you must ignite a fire within the group and keep it well lit.  You must establish momentum and keep the pace.

Visionary You must create a vision for the group of why the meeting is important.

Bridge Builder You must create and maintain a safe and open environment for sharing ideas.  Where other people see differences, you must find and use similarities to establish a foundation for building bridges to consensus.

Clairvoyant Throughout the session, you must watch carefully for signs of potential strain, weariness, aggravation and dis-empowerment — and respond in advance to avoid dysfunctional behavior.

Peacemaker While it is almost always better to avoid a direct confrontation between participants, should such an event occur, you must quickly step in, re-establish order and direct the group toward a constructive resolution.

Taskmaster You are ultimately responsible for keeping the session on track; this means tactfully cutting short irrelevant discussions, preventing detours and maintaining a consistent level of detail throughout the session.

Praiser At every opportunity, you should praise the effort put forth, the progress made, and the results achieved.  Praise well, praise often, praise specifically.

After playing so many roles, is there any wonder why a facilitator is typically exhausted after even a relatively short facilitated session?

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For more resources, see the Library topic Facilitation.

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Michael Wilkinson is the CEO and Managing Director of Leadership Strategies, Inc., “The Facilitation Company” and author of Amazon best-seller “The Secrets of Facilitation”, “The Secrets to Masterful Meetings”, and the brand new “The Executive Guide to Facilitating Strategy.” Leadership Strategies is a global leader in facilitation services, providing companies with dynamic professional facilitators who lead executive teams and task forces in areas like strategic planning, issue resolution, process improvement and others.  They are also a leading provider of facilitation trainingin the United States.

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