So really, why would you hire a facilitator? Surely this is something that you can do yourself. Well, yes and no.
1) If you are participating at all in the meeting, it is difficult to effectively facilitate too. The facilitator needs to remain neutral, ensure everyone has their say and allow people to share ideas even when they are contradictory to their own. By hiring an external facilitator you can focus entirely on taking part as the facilitator runs the session. You can concentrate on thinking about the content of your contributions to the meeting or workshop, rather than the process of running the session.
2) A facilitator will promote maximum engagement of all participants. In many meetings it is easy for people to sit back and not fully engage themselves, especially when they are not motivated to join in. Not everyone is at their best talking in front of others and so the facilitator will use a range of tools and techniques to allow everyone to find a way to input effectively. There will be a focus on empowering everyone to communicate more effectively.
3) Participants will be enabled to think creatively and input a wider range of ideas. By providing activities specifically designed for the session the environment is stimulating and motivating and perhaps even fun. Ideas flow much better when people are enjoying themselves and feeling inspired to communicate ideas that in a normal meeting they might feel a bit ‘silly’ doing.
4) Participants may also be asked to work in smaller groups or pairs, or get up and move around and talk to different people. These types of activities create more energy as people will be physically moving. It is also common in a meeting for people to sit next to those they often work with or know well. By mixing people up a bit more, there are different dynamics and interactions which often encourage fresh ideas. The facilitator will also ensure that there is good use of the space available and that the meeting environment is set up for productive working.
5) The right information is discussed and kept focused by the facilitator. Meetings and groups discussions can easily go off topic and while sometimes new ideas do emerge in this way, it is often hard to keep things focused. A facilitator will make sure that the meeting sticks to the plan and achieves the pre defined goals. At the same time, the facilitator will be able to deal with any extra ideas and rather than lose them, record them and ‘park’ them for another time.
6) Facilitation promotes the opportunity to listen to each other and reflect. It is common in meetings for there to be a lot of talking but sometimes not enough listening. Sometimes people are trying hard to think about what they need to contribute or are unable to assimilate all the ideas that are discussed. A facilitator will bring in activities and tools to ensure that there is the space and time to actively listen to ideas and respond to them.
7) Facilitated sessions are specially designed and structured to be time efficient. While a facilitated meeting, session, workshop or group gathering may appear to take longer than a standard meeting, the outputs will be more concrete, objectives will be met and the outcomes will be much more tangible. When a session is well designed and delivered within a planned structure and time frame a better quality and quantity of information is elicited.
8) Workshop write-up and information recording is carried out by the facilitator. Often when a session is facilitated there is far more information generated that in a standard meeting. Rather than someone needing to take minutes, and type them up, the facilitator will ensure that all the information is captured and produce a post event write up.
About the author:
Helene Jewell is an experienced facilitator with a passion for improving and enhancing communication. She comes from a background of Speech and Language Therapy which took her overseas as a VSO volunteer where she developed her love of training, participation and facilitation. She has worked for a number of organisations using her communication skills as an advocate, research consultant, project manager and interpreter. She now runs her own business offering facilitation services to a wide range of clients from local community groups to large water companies. Participants in her workshops have included young people, teachers, community workers, health care professionals, engineers, archaeologists and project managers.