Group Facilitation Guide
Any time a group is established for ongoing work, or for a limited period or special project, the responsibility for facilitating the group's efforts must be recognized and accepted if the group is to reach its full potential. This guide offers ways for enhancing a group's performance using proven facilitation methods.
The work of facilitation can be shared and/or rotated. The person with primary responsibility for the tasks assigned to a group should seriously consider rotating the role of facilitator and recorder among the group's members. The advantages of this are manifold:
- Training the individual group members in group work markedly increases their buy-in to the group's activities.
- By giving up some of the control over (and responsibility for) the way the group operates, the designated leader is relieved of some significant time demands.
- The designated leader will more than likely receive unexpected support from the group.
- It is difficult to facilitate properly if the facilitator is also playing an active group participation role.
The person who has ultimate responsibility for establishing the group should be aware of the needs for facilitating the groups work and should assign responsibility for the various tasks and activities described below. In the event a group is self-forming, then the group itself should discuss these at its first meeting and decide how to handle them.
1. Set Group Standards
- Set and adhere to agreed-upon group standards. These become norms for the group's behavior, which radically improves the level of trust within a group. An example of a standards adopted by groups are:
For every meeting there is a designated meeting facilitator and a meeting recorder.
Develop a schedule so that everyone who attends meetings knows if it's their turn to either facilitate or record.
Ensure that everyone attending the meeting receives the information they need so they can come properly prepared.
- share only what you wish to share;
- respect peoples' need for confidentiality;
- avoid psychologizing and criticizing (saying why a person does, says, or thinks something - ask them why, but don’t tell them why);
- focus on behavior, not judgment;
- be on time for sessions, end on time;
- each person has an opportunity for input into each meeting agenda;
- interrupt when needed for clarification or comment - but be conscious of letting people finish their train of thought before doing so;
- voice agreement and, especially, disagreement: don't just keep quiet if you disagree - find a non-confrontational way of expressing the reasons for disagreeing, and offer the data that support those reasons;
- give each other slack to experiment and be awkward trying out new ideas or behaviors;
2. Facilitator Responsibilities
Before the meeting:
- Issue a call for agenda items according to the group norms;
- Ensure that an agenda and background materials as needed are distributed well in advance of the meeting;
- Call (or arrange for calls to) the individual group members a day or two before the meeting as a reminder, to answer questions, to make sure those who will be called on in the meeting will be prepared, etc;
- Check on logistics of meeting location, etc;
- See that needed supplies, flipchart, markers masking tape, etc. will be available as necessary;
- Arranged for coffee, etc., to be provided if appropriate to the time of the meeting. [People need reasons to get up and stretch occasionally, and this is an informal way of providing a non-distruptive opportunity to do this.]
At the meeting:
- Quickly review the agenda and confirm the meeting ending time
- Confirm who the recorder is and what they're going to record
- Suggest a time limit for each agenda item (and either stick to the time limit or reach group agreement that more time be allotted.)
- Make sure that time is provided to address any unfinished business from the last meeting.
- Guide the group through each agenda item, asking questions as appropriate to elicit information and/or reach decisions.
- When the facilitator feels it necessary to engage substantively in the discussion, clarify the temporary switch away from facilitator role and then back again. If the facilitator in a meeting is the one with most authority over the group, he/she must be particularly careful so as not to suppress involvement of the other group members in discussion and decision making.
- Direct/control verbal traffic flow and group dialogue to make sure each person has an opportunity to be heard and finish their train of thought.
- As necessary, paraphrase, summarize what's been said, and otherwise gatekeep (“Haven’t heard from you Jim, what’s your thinking on this?) and harmonize (sounds like you Betty, and you Ed, are rather close to agreement on this.) etc.
- At the end of meeting review agreements and decisions made, clarify the next meeting location, time, and date, and determine who will facilitate the next meeting.
- Offer a time for closing comments from all participants. ("Most appreciated, wish were different, etc.)
3. Recorder Responsibilities
The responsibilities of the recorder will vary depending on the nature of the meeting. If there is not a recorder at a meeting, it can result in the unfortunate situation (which often happens) that a few weeks later no-one can remember the meeting's outcome, and it has to be repeated to cover essentially the same ground.
Here are examples of duties of the recorder.
- Record agreed upon group standards at the first meeting, and bring to each subsequent meeting as appropriate.
- Jot down important points, discussion arguments, decisions, group conclusions, and (especially) agreements as to who will do what by when. Record these items on notepaper, or (preferably) newsprint.
- Keep track of time allotted to each agenda item and advise the facilitator when time is up.
- Save any agenda items or steps group doesn't get to and give to the facilitator to be addressed at the next meeting.
- Make sure someone is designated to be recorder for the next meeting.
- Get all meeting notes or newsprint typed up and distributed to the facilitator to be sent out ahead of the next meeting.
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