In our last blog, Christopher Comeau talked about communication during change, and how to increase buy-in to your change efforts. As you do this work, you may find it helpful to bring in a facilitator for specific meetings and events related to the change. So today I’d like to talk about when it makes sense to use a facilitator, and things to consider in choosing a facilitator.
But first, what is a facilitator? What do they do? Facilitation is more than just standing in front of a group and deciding who will speak next. Most of the work is done behind the scenes, before the first participant even walks into the room (or signs in to the online session). The job of the facilitator is to design, prepare and manage an interactive process that will achieve specific objectives.
When It Makes Sense to Use a Facilitator
Using a facilitator is most helpful in the following situations:
- You want all your participants to fully engage in the discussions, so you need someone to manage the time and keep things on track.
- The group will be doing work that is new to them and are not sure how to approach it.
- There is tension or conflict that will likely make the group conversations difficult.
- You want someone neutral to manage the discussions.
Things to Consider in Choosing a Facilitator
So let’s imagine you’ve decided it’s appropriate to hire a facilitator. Now what? Not all facilitators have the same skills or experience. How do you select one who will be able to do what you need? One good place to start is the International Association of Facilitators (IAF). The IAF has identified the core competencies of a facilitator, and uses these in its certification process; you can find them at http://www.iaf-world.org/index/Certification/CompetenciesforCertification.aspx#a. Hiring an IAF Certified Professional Facilitator® is a good guarantee that you will be working with someone who masters the basic skills of facilitation.
But in facilitation, like many other fields of work, there are different specializations, and different levels of competency. Here are a few questions you might ask to ensure that the facilitator you hire is
- Do you have a specific process in mind? Some facilitators specialize in strategic planning, appreciative inquiry, team development, or creative problem-solving, to name a few. Others have a broad toolkit that includes different kinds of processes. Make sure that the person you hire has experience with the type of process you are planning.
- How big is the group? The focus in planning and facilitating large group events is different than when working with small groups. With large groups, you want someone who has strong planning skills, and can help you work through and plan for all the logistical challenges involved. With small groups, there is more emphasis on flexibility and responsiveness to the needs of the group during the facilitation.
- How much controversy do you expect? If you are heading into a high conflict situation, make sure you hire a facilitator who has helped other groups deal effectively with conflict.
And make sure you check references; other clients are the only ones who can tell you what it’s really like to work with a given facilitator, and they may have good advice about planning and designing your event too!
Still have questions? Feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll do my best to get you some answers.
In our next blog, Joanna Barclay will talk about the benefits of investing in your corporate culture.