We all have the ability to play numerous roles in life, such as switching quickly between parent and child when attending a family gathering, or switching quickly between friend and customer when shopping or dining with a significant other. Likewise, structured facilitator training enables facilitators to switch their consciousness quickly between the roles of facilitator and methodologist.
Note that a facilitator can “show up” with someone else having performed the coordination, documentation, and methodology roles.
Four Roles of Effective Facilitation
- This role is usually fulfilled by administrative support or by the facilitator. The coordinator role is not always formal but must exist. Responsibilities include:
- Reserving the meeting room,
- Ensuring equipment and supplies,
- Ordering (and perhaps receiving and setting up) refreshments, and
- Supporting participant requests such as travel information.
Documenter (or, Scribe):
- Occasionally this role is performed by a dedicated scribe. But, frequently, the facilitator performs this role alone. Regardless, the documenter (or scribe) must record the group ideas in an organized, consistent manner. Documenters do not edit, paraphrase, or change the documentation on their own. Responsibilities include:
- Setting up the documentation software and tools,
- Documenting outputs and inflection points, not verbatim discussions,
- Distributing the meeting or workshop notes, and
- Managing edits, document versioning, and archiving.
The documenter responds to facilitator requests. Therefore, the role demands objective and neutral behavior throughout the session. Any judgment, evaluation, or “improvement” of participant’s input potentially leads to a biased, distorted record of session output.
The objective is not recording minutes, but documenting outcomes and outputs with a sufficient amount of detail to enable accurate review and understanding. The document must satisfy the workshop deliverable and provides information for the product or project it supports. After that, the documentation trail serves as the group record of what is agreed upon and assists in developing a sense of group accomplishment.
Methodologist (or, Agenda Creator):
- The methodologist’s role defines the approach used for a meeting or workshop. The source of the methodologist typically changes throughout the life-cycle of a product or project. For example, in the planning phase, the methodologist may be a strategic planner—someone who understands how to develop a consensual plan. In the analysis phase, the methodologist may be a process expert, a business architect, or both. In the design phase, the methodologist may be a workflow or user experience specialist. Responsibilities include:
- Helping the facilitator, business partner, and technical partner codify the deliverable and define the appropriate agenda steps to follow,
- Providing succinct questions to ask and the optimal order or sequence for the questions to be answered, and
- Occasionally participating in workshops to ensure that the output produced satisfies the expected standards of quality and consistency—namely that others can act upon the deliverable effectively, such as the product development, project, or Scrum teams.
- The methodologist’s role is functional and not necessarily a single individual or even a person. For example, the executive sponsor could be the methodologist in strategic planning. The methodologist for buying travel tickets could be a system such as Expedia. The methodologist could derive directly from a methodology such as Scrum or SAFe. Business or technical partners (ie, project management) also serve as methodologists.
- The session leader or facilitator is frequently the methodologist. Consequently, look for the expert of the deliverable—who clearly understands the questions to ask that will build the product needed, whether it’s planning, requirements gathering, prioritizing, “hot wash”, etc.
- The session leadership role demands a multitude of tasks performed. Assuredly, the success of the session depends on your skills, knowledge, and abilities as a facilitator. The facilitator’s role frequently includes ALL OF the traditional roles of “Facilitator” discussed below, along with the roles of “Coordinator”, “Documenter”, and “Methodologist”, discussed above. Therefore, managing context remains the key responsibility of the facilitator—other responsibilities include:
- Creating synergy by focusing the group and using your facilitation skills to enhance communications,
- Ensuring that all participants have an opportunity to participate,
- Explaining and enforcing all of the roles,
- Keeping the group on track,
- Listening actively to the discussion and challenging assumptions,
- Managing the documenter and/or the documentation.
- Observing the group interactions and adjusting when necessary.
- Questioning to achieve clarity—aiding understanding among participants.
- Recognizing disruptive behavior and creating positive corrections.
- Working to manage conflict that develops.
The facilitator role creates an environment where every participant has the opportunity to collaborate, innovate, and excel. Listening and observing the team’s progress helps you, as a facilitator, to better serve your participants.
Begin to sense how simple and yet an effective a facilitator could be if someone else coordinated the room, participants, supplies. If someone else provided a detailed agenda with the activities to launch and questions to ask. If someone else managed the documentation at the end of it all.
In fact, as facilitator, you could facilitate a planning workshop in the morning for one group, at one facility, and a user experience workshop, in a different facility, for a different group in the afternoon. And you could do so effectively if the responsibilities of the coordinator, methodologist, and documenter are managed properly. Specialization of labor led to tremendous economical growth worldwide, but few realize the same concept applies to the traditional expectation of a ‘facilitator.’
The Project Management Institute (PMI):
PMI identified three key skills that needed to be improved in project managers. Specifically, they referenced improvement that needed to be made in:
- Abstract thinking (ie, engaging multiple perspectives)
- Planning (ie, upfront loading)
According to the National Speakers Association:
The principles and practice of facilitating, rather than preaching, provide the most effective means to establish clear messaging.
International Institute of Business Analysis™ (IIBA®):
In particular the newest edition of their Guide to the Business Analyst Body of Knowledge® known as BABOK® Guide v3. In its strong compendium about disciplined and structured thinking, the term ‘facilitate’ appears 112 times over 514 pages. Statistically, approximately 25 percent of its pages indicate the need, reference, or link to the importance of facilitation.
The List Goes On . . .
Multiple sources sing the praise of effective facilitation. Yet what skills are required and are they shared equally across all meeting types?
For the assessment, we took our own Professional Facilitation curriculum and compared it with . . .
- International Association of Facilitators (IAF) 18 Core Competencies
- International Institute for Facilitation (INIFAC) 30 Master Facilitator Competencies
- Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) 35 Certification Competencies
Facilitator skills are not equally important in every facilitated session or meme.
- Business Facilitation (or, formal organizations)
- Conflict Management (or, mediation)
- Community Facilitation (with a large stress on ‘helping’), and
- Instructional Facilitation (such as education, training, coaching, etc.)
The combined result below compares 25 structured facilitator skills and scores the importance of each against the four memes of facilitation. Structured facilitator training best supports business facilitation, followed by conflict negotiation, and finally community facilitation and instruction of various types as shown in the chart below.
For each skill, we forced distribution from Low to High and intentionally prevented repeating the same score. Next, we converted the PowerBalls to numeric values from 5-High to 1-Low to create a total score that shows the impact of the skills across the four meme types. Not surprisingly, structured facilitator training and skills are needed most for Business Facilitation followed by Community Facilitation, Conflict Mediation, and then Instructional types.
NOTE: Some skills for mediation and instruction may not be included because they have nominal impact on structured facilitator training. For example:
- Curriculum Development
- Content Expertise
Within consensus-building and decision-making situations, structured facilitator training proves to help groups get more done, faster. For optimal facilitator training, begin with understanding the four roles of effective facilitation, namely coordinator, documenter, methodologist, and facilitator.
If you are facilitating business meetings and want to improve your effectiveness, strive to improve your structured facilitator skills. Your investment in facilitator training will be returned back to you many times over.
Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.
Our courses also provide an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, and 40 CDUs from IIBA, as well as 3.2 CEUs for other professions. (See individual class descriptions for details.)
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