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Facilitation: Process Wizardry

What Is Facilitation

An emerging profession called facilitation is transforming how groups function and saves money and time. This profession consists of directing many types of processes to benefit the groups as a whole - a form of meeting wizardry. Facilitation helps directs groups to work better together. Think of it like a drawbridge which extends down to open blocked walls into pathways of organizational productivity. It guides people across the troubled waters of misdirection.

Ninety-five million meetings are held around the world each day, and 30 million of those are held here in the United States alone. Just think how much time we spend in meetings. As long as we have existed, facilitation has existed. Ancient tribes tapped the wisdom of councils and conducted meetings in circles. In the late 1960's was when the process of facilitation has become more formalized. Improved group performance has driven the evolution of this educational process. Many creative out-of-the-box advancements such as story telling or creative problem solving have come into practice as a way to encourage group involvement. By championing group creativity, a facilitator allows new thinking styles and accepts all possible ideas to stimulate group energy

Importance of How We Relate

Everything in life revolves around interpersonal relationships. 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 to our success in these arenas. Facilitation produces dynamic group interactions and new relationships. Not only do people improve their interpersonal communication skills, they more fully engage to support their common group process.

Facilitators help direct groups toward intended outcomes by challenging them through a range of synergistic tools. For instance, direct learning experiences like breaking up in pairs where each person alternates assuming listener and speaker roles cultivating the meaningful dialogue.

Facilitators also foster collaborative learning and problem-solving methods, guiding groups to address specific challenging circumstances to find better ways to deal with difficult situations. Facilitators stimulate healthier thinking processes. Just getting people to become more mindful listeners is a huge challenge. Facilitators deploy many creative techniques to enhance meetings and organizational development. Use of a simple metaphor like a castle door dropping to become a drawbridge can give participants a powerful visual to reflect upon. Another example, a facilitator may sense things are getting stagnant and get people to do some easy physical exercises. This exercise can awaken the groups to the importance of using relaxation skills. Also, it may be pointed out for participants to remember their body that attached to the constantly thinking mind. Identifying how a group can lessen its stress through activity may be critical to a meeting's success. These facilitators tap the power of team building and group wisdom. Many times managers and employees become amazed but the newly recognized talents the group uncovers.

Value of Facilitation

Facilitation adds value to total quality improvement; organization development; and creative problem solving exercises. Typically, facilitators help groups meet, operate at higher levels of effectiveness, and reach resolution. Numerous factors contribute to successful facilitation: securing collaborative client relations; planning and designing group process; creating and sustaining participatory process; guiding the group to useful outcomes; building and applying professional knowledge; and developing models in positive interactions. Facilitators are not decision makers, however, directs groups into taking ownerships and deciding what are there various options.

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 facilitated agreement can be designed and customized to meet client needs. This pre-planning and analysis of meetings lays the foundation for improved outcomes and helps to establish a clear context for holding the facilitated meeting. Facilitator and client also design the session to best manage time, space and available resources.

Creating More Holistic Group Experiences

Broad-based involvement is essential to good facilitation. Facilitators lead skillfully crafted 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 become more engaged in what comes up. For example, facilitators help participants relate to the content and concepts at hand through the skillful use of graphics. Good facilitators quickly ground concepts with active and practical exercises that demonstrate that experience is the best teacher.

Facilitators act as guides to educate groups in more effective avenues of social interaction. Have you ever seen an entire group discount a good idea or approach simply because they had made an incorrect assumption and had based their decisions and comments on it? Facilitators have the skill to surface these misconceptions and transform this potentially destructive group dynamic by identifying underlying assumptions and emerging conflicts. By managing group disruptive behavior, facilitators transform something that could potentially derail a group into a learning opportunity to benefit the group. Such guidance creates heightened sensitivity to how participants can check the way they think, make assumptions and act on them. This improved group dynamic supports the group to better resolve issues as well as to build 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 is all about applying things from theory into practice. Participants can learn from implementing different problem-solving and decision-making exercises. For example, how does a small group make decisions when assigned a task? Nevertheless, knowing the consequences of misusing group methods is an invaluable lesson that cannot be ignored. How to temper strong personalities and encourage shy members to speak up is vital in this process. It comes down that our formal education may end when such group education begins.

Creating a Productive Setting

A facilitator's success comes from creating enjoyable learning environments. Ideal facilitated groups create comfortable and safe environments where people can explore collaborative decision making, address conflicts and identify problems. This atmosphere makes individuals feel empowered. Facilitation is about improving the work place and creating a new form of trust. Good facilitators strive to create a safe work environment where work is performed more through inspiration than desperation. Facilitators lead meetings as educational growth experiences. As people become more aware, organizations become self actualized. Facilitation is about aligning individuals with organizations to become more functional. This is about an alignment of both person and group to explore what works and feels right.

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 a session, many skilled facilitators can show that "what is in it for me?" and "what in it for the organization?" must be addressed if a "win/win" marriage can be achieved. Finally, a seasoned facilitator frees many logged-jammed groups 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.

The Wizardry: Directing a Process

Part of the wizardry of a skilled facilitator occurs when the facilitator knows when to stand back throughout this process. Watch this artist start a group meeting and then slowly disengage so that the wisdom of the group takes over. There in lies the power of the truly skilled facilitator. 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-so to foster balanced group leadership. Skillful facilitators understand how to best minimize the difficulties and maximize the opportunities that arise with each group differing personalities. 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 meetings happen by knowing the art and science of juggling such relationships.

By listening to the pulse of a group, facilitator's understands the magic of involving each member into a greater whole in the course of a meeting. Facilitators guide groups toward useful outcomes while building professional and interpersonal knowledge. This process initiates inquiry into useful models and improved attitudes further stimulating organizational growth. Since much of our work may relate to how we meet, we all need to sharpen our group skills. Meeting wizards know how to combine various group processes together so to enrich any meeting experience. Facilitation guides people into a more holistic process where walls drop and bridges unfold.

Copyright Rob Arner - All Rights Reserved.
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