Facilitation is the act of engaging members of a group in creating, discovering, and applying insights that they each have as individuals in order to maximize their ability to achieve an objective. The facilitator utilizes multiple processes and techniques in order to guide the participants in accomplishing the stated goals of the meeting.
Facilitation increases the likelihood that the most optimal outcome will be realized. Not only will the most correct decisions be identified, there will also be an increased likelihood of commitment to the decisions because multiple individuals have been involved in the process and have agreed to them.
Maximizing “collective intelligence” is essential for any organization in developing the most appropriate strategic plan. The use of a skilled facilitator, with a focus on assisting the group to “maximize its collective intelligence”, will enhance their ability to look strategically to the future in assessing their mission, vision and the specific actions required to achieve success.
There are several facilitating tools and techniques that can be used to help an organization assess itself relative to its market and constituency. Whether it is via the classic SWOT analysis, or a more designed approach to elicit in depth commentary from the participants, use of facilitation in the strategic planning process can greatly enhance the final product.
Many organizations struggle to identify and focus on the exact tactics or annual goals necessary to bring about success. They may have a very good mission and vision established. Their overarching goals may be exactly what they need to be. The next step, however, the design and implementation of the exact tactics to achieve that strategy, is frequently a harder task to accomplish. The use of facilitation will greatly enhance the group’s ability to identify these tactics and to create very specific action steps to accomplish them. Facilitators enable the group to engage in much more detailed thought and analysis than when attempted alone. This allows the group to prioritize what is important and to set aside less critical issues, thus focusing on what truly makes a difference.
There are many reasons for disagreement among participants in a discussion regarding an issue or problem. Creating an understanding of the root cause of the disagreement can alter the discourse and often bring the group to consensus. Since external facilitators are neutral, with no interest in the outcome of the issue, they are in a very good position to lead groups in searching for consensus. Use of appropriate facilitation techniques can assist participants in expressing their own position regarding the topic while, at the same time, aid them in gaining an understanding of another’s position and opinion regarding the same topic. Then, as understanding among participants is reached, various facilitation processes can be employed to find areas of consensus and use those to reach full consensus on the larger issue.
Problem solving by large groups can be difficult. The size of the issue, competing interests and multiple priorities among the participants, as well as personality differences all contribute to creating challenges in identifying and agreeing to the most correct solution. Application of facilitation techniques can be particularly helpful in creating an environment of collegiality and cooperation as groups address difficult problems. Utilization of facilitation processes assures that all participants have opportunity to contribute in a meaningful fashion, while, at the same time, making sure that a few dominant personalities do not inappropriately influence the group. Use of a facilitator in work groups such as this also allows for the involvement of a disinterested third party. Since the facilitator has no vested interest in the outcome, there is greater assurance and belief that the session leader is not trying to sway opinion and outcome in any particular direction.
Regardless of the purpose or topic, facilitation is an excellent means of enhancing any group’s willingness and ability to converse among themselves. Sometimes it can be hard for a discussion to be meaningful. Reluctance to express an opinion, fear of negative reaction or simple shyness can all create a barrier to a fulfilling conversation.
Whether it is a new group seeking to establish relationships or an existing work team seeking a better understanding of a topic, use of a facilitator will increase the effectiveness of their time together resulting in the best and most effective use of the time invested.
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