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

Strong Facilitation Skills

  • 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 about one indispensable facilitation 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 remains the largest challenge for any meeting leader.

Thus 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 meeting design—in that order. The mandala 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

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. Meeting Approach, Design, and 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, meeting design 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. Meeting design 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 teach meeting design and the facilitator is forced to take on a role they are not trained to handle.

Our alumni know that we frequently compare facilitation skills and attributes to those of a Navy SEAL. We stress the importance of remaining invisible (ie, neutral), focusing externally (ie, NOT on one’s self), and embracing a strong sense of service to help others—to make it easy.

This is the first time we have recommended a hit in the face.

The following extract derives from an article written by Chris Sajnog, a retired U.S. Navy SEAL Master Firearms Instructor and a Neural-Pathway Training Expert. For the entire article, turn your browser to Twelve ways to live like a Navy SEAL in 2016”.

Mr Sajnog provides pertinent advice for facilitators, or others that aspire to make this a better world. He stresses freedom and independence to love and help others through collaboration and focus. Thank you Mr Sajnog for your service, inspiring thoughts, and articulate words. Special thanks to Gr8fullsoul for his inspiring blogs, and pointing out Mr Sajnog’s article.

Hit in the Face Traits

Here are some traits that you will find in a competent facilitator. Make sure you read on, to the list of actions you can take to improve yourself.

  • Active — You need to be moving, doing, or functioning at all times. Ideas and theories are great, but action gets things done.
  • Brave — Brave doesn’t mean you aren’t afraid. It means YOU ARE, but you continue in spite of your fears.
  • Confident — A warrior is sure of himself and has no uncertainty about his own abilities.
  • Decisive — Displaying no hesitation in battle is vital to survival.
  • Disciplined — Once you have a plan and are confident that you can fulfill it, you must have the discipline required to stick with it.
  • Loving — A warrior has confronted death and understands the value of life. Warriors whose lives are in balance are peaceful, unselfish and compassionate of others. The love of others gives the warrior his energy to constantly train for battle and the strength to survive once he’s there.
  • Loyal — A warrior needs direction, and that comes from being faithful to a cause, ideal or institution. Loyalty will keep you guided along your path.
  • Patient — Having patience means bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint.
  • Skillful — Having the right mindset is vital, but you need a skill set to match.
  • Strong — You need to have a determined will in all that you do. A strong mind can make up for a weak body, but not the other way around.
  • Vigilant — You never know when danger is going to come knocking, and you need to be prepared to react appropriately.

Facilitator Actions

Thus, here are a few actions you can take to become a better facilitator:

  • Become a master at what you do. Everything in life is either worth doing well or it’s not worth doing at all.
  • Embrace competition. Sign up for a race, a fight or just challenge someone to arm wrestle. Prove that you’re better than someone else at something or work until you are.
  • Find something you’re afraid of and go do it. Everyone has fears — warriors (facilitators) overcome them.
  • Have a set of NUTs (Non-negotiable, Unalterable Terms) and live by them!  These are anything you’re not willing to compromise in life, period.
  • Start establishing routines and habits in everything you do. We are what we repeatedly do.
  • Start practicing some form of martial arts — if you’ve never been hit in the face, go find out what it’s like.
  • Work out. It doesn’t matter what you do. Breathe hard and sweat.
  • Write down your goals and core values. If you don’t have a map for your life, how will you get where you want to go?

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Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Strengthen your facilitator skills with best practices in meeting leadership, conflict management, and complex decision-making tools. Become certified and professionally trained NOW (and earn up to 40 PDUs, SEUs, and CDUs). #Facilitationtraining

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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