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Insights into facilitation: What makes groups work

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Facilitation Skills
This article is based on the free eBook “Facilitation Skills”

Do you know what an effective group is all about? The answer: Facilitation. Whether you do it consciously or intuitively, facilitation is one of the most important skills you can possess. Without it, you will only get a fraction of what is possible from a group of people. With it, all things are possible.

So what exactly is “facilitation”? Here is one definition: Dale Hunter says that, “Facilitation is creating a space where people can be themselves.”

The value of facilitation is now recognised at the highest levels of many organisations. In practice, many successful business leaders facilitate what goes on in their companies. Examples of where facilitation can be valuably practised include: team meetings; training sessions; brainstorming and problem-solving meetings; mediation and conciliation of grievances, conflicts and disputes; leading teams; motivating groups. Let’s take a look at some of the main problems that you will have to deal with when you are announced the facilitative leader.


Dealing with the Blocks

No matter what tasks your group are working on – whether trying to achieve new goals or giving birth to a new way of working, – the fact that they are “struggling” to succeed can bring with it a number of painful feelings. When a group becomes despondent at facing these painful feelings, you must put on your facilitator’s hat and, true to the essence of facilitation, ease their way forward. Here are 5 of the possible blocks that will face you and the group.


1. Block: Problems

Many groups come together in the first place because of problems that they need to work on. Sometimes the problems are outside the group; sometimes they are inside it. Facing up to problems gives the group a creative tension. Without it, group life would lack challenge. It would be too easy and comfortable. It would have no reason to go on.


2. Block: Frustration

Whenever we strive for something new in life, we inevitably come up against difficulties, difficulties which often stop us in our tracks. The feeling of not being able to reach the goals we want is frustration and it is inevitable when a group comes together to solve problems. Often group members will appeal to the facilitator to resolve their frustration for them. But facilitative leaders know that there are no lessons to be learnt by skirting round frustration, only by guiding a group through it.


3. Block: Failure

For a group who are trying to succeed, failure is the state they are in until they reach their goals. Our society doesn’t like failures. Everywhere we promote images of success. But even for the truly successful, failure is the state they are in for 99% of their journey. One of the things you can do as facilitator, when a group complains that they have failed, is to divorce the failure from the feeling of failure. Instead replace it with the feeling of success: the knowledge that every failure brings the group one step nearer their goals.


4. Block: Confusion

We don’t like confusion. It evokes thoughts of uncertainty, danger, and panic, like driving at night through thick fog. But a learning group will inevitably experience confusion in the early stage of their work especially if they are in brand new territory. Helping people stay with their confusion without giving up is one of the most valuable things a facilitator can do. As Trevor Bentley says, “Being able to stay in a state of confusion until clarity arrives is the height of intellectual ability. It’s what we call wisdom.”


5. Block: Risk

All moves towards group growth involve varying degrees of risk. The group is, after all, moving out of the comfort zones of what they already know and do well into areas that they are unsure of. That means giving up things they hold dear such as personal status in the pecking order, trappings of power, and the feelings of established group relationships. Facilitators can help the group face risk by helping them move forward in easy steps and managing the group’s change.

If you want to know more about how to manage and lead people in ways that bring out their potential as individuals and groups, “Facilitation Skills – Empowering groups to grow” written by Eric Garner is the right book for you.