Successful leaders have one thing in common: Strong facilitation skills. What are these facilitation skills and how many do you need to lead a successful meeting? Depending on who you ask, there may be:

  • 6 Essential Facilitator Skills
  • 9 Meeting Facilitation Skills
  • 9 Facilitation Skill Competencies
  • Top 11 Facilitator Skills
  • and of course, many, many others

At MG RUSH, our experience as facilitators and trainers of professional facilitators has taught us that underlying everything expected of a facilitator remains one indispensable skill: The ability to remove distractions. All behavior can be guided by the simple question,Is it a distraction, or not? An intelligent group of subject matter experts will develop solutions for any issue if they can all focus on the same thing, at the same time. Getting a group to focus concurrently remains the largest challenge for any team leader.

To reach a high level of group focus, we break down meeting effectiveness into three domain-general areas of facilitation skills each with additional, domain-specific skills. The three general areas include meeting leadership, facilitation, and methodology—in that order.

Meetings capture a huge investment of time. Unproductive meetings affect your cash flow, morale, and potential growth of your biggest asset, your people. As frequent and important as we attend meetings, little (if any) structured training has been provided to help us become better meeting participants, and more importantly, meeting leaders. 

Strong Facilitation SkillsThree Domain-general Facilitation Skills

More effective meetings for any group are dependent on improving three domain-general facilitation skills, namely:

  1. WHY — Leadership consciousness ensures that we begin with the end in mind. WHY we are meeting equates with what does DONE look like? The best facilitators in the world will fail miserably if they don’t know where they are going. The worst facilitators can still succeed when the deliverable is clear and has an impact on the quality of life of the meeting participants.
  2. WHAT — Once it has been made clear where we are going, facilitation skills make it easier to know WHAT to do to make a meeting successful. Unfortunately, we have developed poor muscle memory over the years. Some behaviors need to be ‘unlearned’ before new behaviors are embraced. The only way to change such behaviors is through practice and immersion. Talking heads (ie, instructors lips are moving) won’t do it. Only active participation and practice will work at instilling effective and facilitative behaviors.
  3. HOW — Even a great facilitator who knows where they are going (ie, What DONE looks like) still needs help. They need to know HOW they are going to build consensus and get a group of people from the meeting Introduction to the Wrap.  While the best methodology or approach (ie, agenda) has more than one right answer, there is one wrong answer — if the meeting leader does not know HOW they are going to do it.

The mandala wheel illustrates the primary facilitation skills required of a professional. The wheel suggests context and method; you provide the other skills and attributes after confirming the group goal or deliverable with the participants and ensuring they find the agenda a reasonable approach (preferably completed during the interview or Preparation phase).

Primary Facilitation Skills

Primary Facilitation Skills

  • Active listening

    • Contacting and absorbing—noting both verbal and nonverbal behaviors
    • Feedback—responding to participant’s contribution
    • Clarifying—both expanding and focusing discussion
    • Confirming—determining the validity of the content
    • Challenging—confirming the meaning and assumptions
  • Behavior changing

    • Assessing the current behavior—what are risks, why do they persist, what are the related environmental factors that may or may not be within the participant’s control
    • Agreeing on goals for new behavior—what the new behavior will look like
    • Developing a strategy for change—identifying support structures for helping the change to occur
    • Monitoring the success of the new behaviors
    • Feeding back information to help improve the process
  • Challenging

    • Recognizing emotions, logic, and intuition in participants—being aware of their experience
    • Describing and sharing beliefs—modeling feeling expression
    • Feeding back opinions—reacting honestly to expressions
    • Mediating—promoting self-confrontation
    • Repeating—tapping obscure beliefs
    • Associating—facilitating loosening of beliefs
    • Managing—conflict
  • Crisis intervention

    • Appraising the nature and severity of the crisis
    • Serving in a directly helpful way—helping to expand the participant’s vision of options or alternatives, to mobilize the participant’s own sense of strength and coping mechanisms
    • Reinforcing action points—whatever has been determined to be the resolution of the crisis
  • Leading

    • Indirect leading—getting started (eg, logistics)
    • Direct leading—permitting and encouraging discussion
    • Focusing—controlling confusion, diffusion, and vagueness
    • Questioning—conducting open and closed inquiries
  • Problem-solving and decision-making

    • Stating the problem/ issue and turning it into a goal statement 
or concrete deliverable
    • Helping participants express doubts or fears about why something “won’t work”
    • Documenting options/ action plans
    • Gathering relevant information about resources, constraints, related goals or issues, etc.
    • Developing selection or evaluation criteria in light of codified goals and resources
    • Selecting a backup/ contingency if first choice proves untenable
    • Generalizing learning for similar situations that might come up later (as in Community of Practice or Lookback)
  • Reflecting

    • On beliefs—responding to beliefs
    • About experience—responding to total experience
    • Using content—repeating main message for clarity
  • Rhetorical precision

    • Parsimony—ie, expressing the most with the least
    • Language command—understanding and properly applying the parts of speech, particularly with the English language
    • Capturing meaning in terms used and understood by the participants rather than familiar to the facilitator
  • Summarizing

  • Supporting

    • Creating a climate of trust and acceptance
    • Assisting in a healing method that helps to counter any attacking forces

We further break-down each domain-general facilitation skill into domain-specific facilitation skills. Most of our articles and all of our curriculum provide further explanation of each, so this article provides a simple listing only.

Domain-specific Facilitation Skills

The domain-specific facilitation skills below have been sequenced alphabetically, as opposed to frequency, importance, etc.

 1. Meeting Leadership

1.1. Awareness of local culture, life-cycle, and terminology

1.2. Consciousness of roles in meeting

1.3. Understanding the holarchy and reason for meeting

2. Group Facilitation

2.1. Active listening and reflecting rationale

2.2. Biases: challenging participants and questioning

2.3. Communications and rhetorical precision

2.4. Consensus building and shared ownership

2.5. Context versus content

2.6. Environmental control and real estate management

2.7. Ground rules and participant behavior

2.8. Group development and performance

2.9. Interventions: managing conflict and distractions

2.10. Neutrality, non-verbal, and observation

2.11. Output capture and visual stimulation

2.12. Thinking styles and heuristics

3. Methodology

    1. Agenda building and tool identification
    2. Constraints: ease, resources, and timing
    3. Continuous improvement and participant feedback
    4. Creativity and innovation
    5. Daily Scrum and Retrospectives
    6. Decision-making continuum
    7. Decision-matrix and decision quality testing
    8. Definitions, glossaries, and lexicons
    9. Distributed teams and virtual participation (eg, video-presence)
    10. Documenting
    11. Experience adapting and backup planning
    12. External resources
    13. Focus: avoiding many to many
    14. Interviewing and participant preparation
    15. Introductory activities (eg, icebreakers)
    16. Managing content while maintaining neutrality
    17. Meeting purpose, scope, deliverable
    18. Planning, analysis, and design approaches
    19. Preparation using an annotated agenda
    20. Prioritization options
    21. Problem-solving prototypes
    22. Risk assessment and measurement
    23. Scoping
    24. Scrubbing nouns and verbs and mitigating modifiers
    25. Tools selection and use (repeatability, scalability, and versatility) especially:
    26. Work breakdown structure and team charters
    27. Wrap or review activities (eg, Parking Lot)

Why Do Facilitators with Skills Fail?

Arguably there are a lot of talented facilitators who remain challenged or fail in their sessions. As you can tell from our list of required facilitator skills above, methodology explains the primary reason for meeting failures.

Most groups want to show up, want to contribute, and want to do a good job—yet meetings frequently fail. Why? They don’t know how. Methodology remains the secret to structured meetings and success around common goals.

A good facilitator could operate successfully in various environments and cultures. To be successful, they need the right agenda, method, and tools.  Unfortunately, most organizations do not have formal methodologists and the facilitator is forced to take on a role they are usually ill-prepared to handle.

______

Meanwhile, MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practicing methodology. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools before class concludes. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

Therefore Become Part of the Solution While You Improve Your Facilitation, Leadership, and Methodology Skills

Take a class or forward this to someone who should. MG RUSH Professional Facilitation curriculum provides an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, 40 CDUs from IIBA, and 3.2 CEUs. As a member of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF), our Professional Facilitation, our training fully aligns with IAF Certification Principles. Consequently, our professional curriculum fully prepares alumni for their Certified Professional Facilitator designation.

Furthermore, all of our classes immerse students in the responsibilities and dynamics of effective facilitation and methodology. Because nobody is smarter than everybody, attend an MG RUSH  Professional Facilitation, Leadership, and Methodology workshop offered around the world. See MG RUSH  for a current schedule.

Additionally, go to the Facilitation Training Store to access proven in-house resources. There you will discover fully annotated agendas, break timers, and templates. Finally, take a few seconds to buy us a cup of coffee and please SHARE with others.

In conclusion, we dare you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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