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Top 5 Characteristics of Effective Facilitators

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As any instructor will tell you, one of the best things about teaching is learning from your students. It happens in some way, big or small, every time you get in front of people who are expecting to hear how to do it “right.”

Of course, there is no “right” a lot of the time. In my classes, for example, I instruct and inform, but I also facilitate discussions about the options, and the students decide what is going to work for them.

This brings me to the Facilitation Skills Workshop I teach. In this class, we learn about different facilitation techniques and then the students do the work; they facilitate each of the sessions throughout the class.

Maybe you are like many of the students in this class who are terrified of speaking in front of groups. This fear is very real, and their response is often visceral. Particularly when in person, their hands shake, they sweat, and some have a hard time breathing. Even when working virtually, people are unnerved by the technology they are unfamiliar with, the inability to see others, and the general nature of virtual interactions that seem to highlight verbal guffaws.

It is amazing to watch those folks who are terrified of speaking in front of groups be able to successfully facilitate to accomplish a goal. With a little preparation, tools, and guidance, it is amazing what I have seen people do who did not think they had it in them. It is enormously validating for them and the participants.

One of the sessions in our workshop involves the identification of the characteristics of an effective facilitator. It provides great insight into what others value most from anyone, including me, in the facilitator role. And because the students do the actual facilitating, I get to learn a lot by watching them and then hearing what they think are the keys to doing it “right.”

The following are the most commonly identified Top 5 Characteristics of Effective Facilitators:

  1. Neutral
    Facilitators are neutral. They care that the group achieves their goal in the session, but they do not care what the specific results are.
  2. Prepared
    A facilitator needs to be prepared. Facilitation might look easy, but it is hard work – especially when participants are at different levels in the organization and the politics of the group are complex. Effective facilitating means developing a solid, flexible plan for how to conduct the session, including thoughts about how to use a variety of tools and techniques depending on the dynamics of the session.
  3. Energetic
    A facilitator needs to be neutral, but that does not mean they should be dull. Bringing energy to the session keeps people focused and engaged.
  4. Goal Focused
    A good facilitator needs a clear understanding of the goal of the session. Facilitators need to ask questions to fully understand what success looks like, and then they need to keep that goal in front of the group throughout the session to keep conversations on track and aligned with that goal.
  5. Positive
    Good facilitators make the participants want to engage and do the work to achieve the session objective. A positive tone will encourage participants to own their part of the outcome.

You may think this sounds like a lot for the sessions you facilitate. Or you may not always be in the role of a facilitator. Maybe it is your job to lead a team and purposely not be neutral.

Being mindful of these characteristics and honing your facilitation skills will still make you more effective when working with others to address a problem, achieve consensus on a course of action, refine a process, or any of the myriad reasons you may collaborate with others.

I would love to hear from you. What is on your Top 5 Facilitator Characteristics list?

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