Thursday, August 04, 2005

Why Facilitate?

An emerging profession called facilitation is improving how groups run. This process helps organizations and individuals work better together. Facilitation builds a drawbridge: where once a wall blocked success,it can now be lowered as a bridge linking people across the troubled waters of misdirection.

How we relate in groups, how we relate in our working life, and how we relate in all other aspects of our life is fundamental. Facilitation renders group relations dynamic, not only do people improve their interpersonal communication skills, they become engaged to support in a common group process. Facilitators help direct groups toward intended outcomes by challenging them through a range of synergistic exercises. They foster collaborative learning and problem-solving methods. Facilitators cultivate a healthier thinking process and use many creative techniques to enhance meetings and organizational development. These group directors tap the power of team building and group wisdom.

Facilitation has numerous applications─ from conflict resolution to strategic planning. Facilitation is popular in other areas including; total quality improvement; organization development; and creative problem solving exercises. Typically, a facilitator helps a group meet and operate or even come to some common resolutions. There are numerous factors that contribute to successful facilitation: securing a collaborative client relation; planning and designing the group process; creating and sustaining the participatory process; guiding the group to useful outcomes; building and applying professional knowledge; and developing models in positive interactions.

Development of this collaborative process takes place when a client meets with a facilitator to develop consensus on tasks, deliverables, roles and responsibilities. By clarifying mutual commitments, the beginning of a co-facilitated agreement can be designed and customized to meet the client needs. This pre-planning and analysis of the organizational meeting determines possible outcomes and helps in establishing a clear context for a holding a facilitated meeting. An action plan is also drawn up by the facilitator with the client to best manage time, space and resources available.

The involvement of everyone is essential to good facilitation. A facilitator applies new processes to improve meeting productivity through open participation that encourages active listening. A facilitator brings everyone into one common dialogue. Asking the group’s buy-in to a basic set of group rules develops consensus right from the beginning. Some facilitators find that a “light and lively” approach—having fun in a constructive atmosphere -- helps in getting people to begin feel safe in the group. Developing a relaxed meeting ambiance is essential to discouraging defensiveness and fostering creativity and a sense of exploration. By developing rapport with participants, a facilitator ensures inclusiveness and honors diversity. Positive feedback is given to the shared experience of all participants. Facilitators stimulate participants to identify, participate, awaken, or even take ownership in what comes up. Sustaining stakeholders’ involvement is essential for the group to work and ultimately take theory into practice. Good facilitators quickly ground concepts with active and practical exercises that demonstrate that experience is the best teacher.

Organizations function effectively when they are skillfully directed. Facilitators act as guides to educate groups in more effective avenues of social interaction. For example, facilitators will transform group conflict by identifying underlying assumptions and acknowledging any emerging conflict. By managing group disruptive behavior, facilitators may transform this into a learning opportunity to benefit the group. Such guidance creates heightened sensitivity to resolving other matters in addition to building greater group trust.

Facilitators know how professional knowledge builds group skills. With today’s knowledge explosion, wisely developing and identifying different forms of group dynamics allows the members of the group to more effectively work together. Understanding different problem-solving and decision-making models is helpful. Nevertheless, knowing the consequences of misusing group methods is an invaluable lesson that cannot be ignored.

A facilitator’s success comes from creating enjoyable learning environments. An ideal facilitated group is when people feel comfortable, and safe. They now are ready to explore collaborative decision making, address conflicts and identify problems. The atmosphere itself makes individuals feel empowered. Facilitation is about improving the work place. Hopefully a good facilitator can create the beginnings of an attitude where work is performed more by inspiration than desperation. Facilitators try to lead meetings as educational growth experiences. As people become more aware, organizations can become self actualized. Facilitation is about aligning individuals with organizations to become more functional.

There are many factors that contribute to a dynamic collaborate meeting of people. First, it is important to understand the context surrounding the meeting in order to establish a well thought-out agenda. Second, it is important to identify and acknowledge the various personalities and agendas of the participants. Even if participants are required to attend such a session, there are many good facilitators who can transform an atmosphere from “what is in it for me?” to a “we can all benefit” environment. Finally, a seasoned facilitator directs many groups that are log- jammed towards a free flow of ideas, information and a new sense of interpersonal freedom. Remaining as neutral as possible, these professionals can nurture meaningful group interaction in a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere.

A fascinating facet of this process is how the facilitator knows when to stands back throughout this process. Watching such an individual start a group meeting and then slowly disengage so that the wisdom of the group takes over is a powerful experience. Sensitivity, timing and an instinct to best resolve conflicts are the outstanding attributes of great facilitators. Savvy facilitators act as meeting wizards—understanding not just techniques but also the dynamics of group development-- to allow the group to lead themselves. Since each group has differing personalities, those more skillful facilitators understand how to best perform a balancing act by minimizing the difficulties and maximizing the opportunities that arise. Finally, expert facilitators know how to draw healthy boundaries while encouraging trust in the experience of others.

Simply put, a facilitator coaches a group in a direction and knows how to maximize a group flow by directing it forward on its merits. Facilitation is both a process and an experience. This process sharpens people’s relationship skills. How we individually and collectively interact has a direct bearing on how well a group may functions or not. Facilitators make effective projects or workshops happen.

Gifted facilitators know how to listen to the pulse of a group. They know the power of involving each member into a greater whole in the course of a meeting. Facilitators guide groups toward useful outcomes while building professional knowledge. This process initiates inquiry into models of positive professional attitudes further stimulating organizational growth. If we wish to improve in our jobs, we all need to sharpen our group skills. Facilitation guides people into a more holistic process where walls drop and bridges unfold.

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