22 Synergistic Techniques for Facilitating Successful Small Groups

In the last post, we learned that good facilitators (leaders) love and respect people as they are.  They don’t treat them like things to be fixed.  Because of this, you won’t catch them constantly talking and giving advice.  You’ll catch them asking questions and listening most of the time.

MAD SCIENTISTFacilitating a group is not a mechanical process.  Their aren’t X number of steps that if followed will lead to success.  It’s a craft that takes skill and practice.  You’re working with a living, breathing organism.  Facilitation must therefore follow along the life of the organism and make adjustments and interventions on the fly.

Like a scientist, a facilitator comes prepared with the right techniques that will allow them to guide the process of the creation of the group’s life together.  These techniques are the ingredients that have been known to be fruitful in guiding groups into their purpose.  They’re all designed and encouraged to be at the disposal of the facilitator when appropriate.  Here are some of them…

Tap the energy of the group

A group is its own entity, uniquely distinct from the individuals that make it up.  A good facilitator must be skilled at discerning the difference between individual wants and suggestions and what the group as a whole wants and suggests.  They will help the group find where consensus lies between them.

Follow the resources of the group

A group’s purpose will align with the resources at their disposal.  A good facilitator helps groups see their resources and how they can effectively use them to achieve their purpose.

Don’t show favoritism

Treat everyone as equally valuable and capable group members.  A good facilitator makes sure everyone is committed and involved with the group achieving its purpose.

Craft the meeting space

The environment of meetings is critical to their success.  The way you structure space determines how the group will function together.  A good facilitator has special knowledge about how to create and sustain spaces that optimize the group’s time together and the achievement of their meeting purposes.

Keep the group focused on the purpose

Distractions are inevitable.  A good facilitator is able to quickly discern when the group is getting off track from their purpose and helps it re-focus itself.

Be adaptable

Because of the organic nature of groups, a good facilitator is ready and able to switch directions in the moment.  If they’re using one technique, they’re able to put it away and pull out another technique as the life of the group calls for it.

Make the beginning really good

The beginning of anything is crucial, especially meetings.  It sets the tone for the rest of the experience.  It’s like laying the foundation of a house.  It’s what the rest of the house stands on.  A good facilitator will understand this and be skillful at creating good beginnings.

Don’t block anything

With everything that happens, accept it, integrate it and move forward with it.  For example, if someone falls off their chair, don’t ignore it.  Pause, make a joke, see if the person is OK.  If a child interrupts the meeting, address them, integrate them, attend to their need and then pick up right where you left off.  A good facilitator will help the group improvise with whatever happens during their times together.

Embrace conflict

Conflict is natural, and is the only path through which growth takes place.  A good facilitator helps a group embrace their conflict rather than avoid it.  As they work through it, the group becomes stronger on the other side.

Be present

A good facilitator is only effective if they have a high awareness moment by moment.  They are able to take in everything that’s going on in a group, process it quickly and react accordingly.

Model desired behavior

For the most part, people don’t change or act because they are told to do so.  They do so because of what they see and what inspires them.  A good facilitator is a highly mature individual who naturally models what the individuals in the group desire to be.

Recover quickly

A facilitator is still going to get tripped up.  Their buttons will be pushed.  Certain people will get on their nerves.  A good facilitator is able to recognize when this happens to them, quickly identify it, re-align their mind and emotions to the task at hand and move on quickly.

Use questions and suggestions

A good facilitator avoids giving advice (unless asked directly).  They will use questions and suggestions to guide the group to their own answers without getting involved in the content.

Help the group negotiate

For a group to come to a consensus, they will need to negotiate back and forth with each other until an agreement is reached.  A good facilitator is skilled at guiding the group in their negotiations, helping people remember what others said, giving good summaries of where the group is currently at, and keeping the group from going on bunny trails.

Learn and apply cultural differences

Typically, not everyone in a group has the exact same cultural practices and norms.  People will have different expectations about practical issues like being on time, the content of what the group eats together, cleanliness, etc.  A good facilitator takes the time and makes the effort to learn these differences and apply them in a way where the group respects them.

Acknowledge and affirm

There are some tasks that take a lot of time and effort.  A good facilitator will be able to show the group where they’re at and encourage them about their progress.  This should give the group new energy to keep going.

Intervene only when necessary

A good facilitator allows the group to function unless it gets off course.  They will be able to discern when an individual goes outside the boundaries of the group task or purpose at hand and be bold enough to gently steer the conversation back inside the boundaries.

Adjust to the energy of the group

The group shows through their energy if they’re on the right track.  A good facilitator will adjust on the fly to the energy of the group to keep it engaged and moving towards the purpose for each meeting.

Use consensus, not voting

It’s only healthy to move forward with a decision if every group member is on board.  Majority votes are easy paths out of working together to find a solution.  A good facilitator will be able to guide groups toward reaching consensus decisions together.

Ask for agreement

Just because someone is silent, doesn’t mean they agree.  A good facilitator will make sure everyone agrees with a decision before moving forward.  If they feel it’s necessary, they will ask for a yes or no response from every group member.

Don’t be a know it all

There may be times when things happen and the solution or suggestion for what to do isn’t readily apparent.  It’s OK.  A good facilitator will admit they aren’t sure of what to do and will ask for suggestions.

Ask for feedback

After a meeting is over, a good facilitator may ask for feedback from the group to learn about how they can be more useful to the group.

Amidst all of these tools and techniques, the most important thing to remember is that the group has a life of its own.  The facilitator is not the head of it and the group doesn’t come to hear the facilitator talk and give advice.  The facilitator follows the group’s life and purpose, using these tools and techniques to help it build itself.

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