They help teams meet tough objectives. They facilitate engaging, powerful conversations. They move discussions forward. Trained facilitators make all the difference when you’ve got a critical initiative at hand. Here’s why.
Imagine this: You and your team are nearing the last hour of a two-day retreat you organized to create a three-year strategy for your division.
Sticky notes and candy wrappers are strewn everywhere. You’re exhausted. Your eyes hurt. It feels like you’ve gone over the same ground multiple times in the last two days—but you’re nowhere near finished.
And the clincher: Your boss expects a report on your progress in the morning, and you have no idea what you’re going to tell her.
The Undeniable Value of Skilled Facilitation
If this scenario sounds remotely familiar—and if you’re reading this, it likely does—you have experienced the worst a meeting can be. And it’s probably because whoever organized the meeting had little understanding of how to run one.
This is precisely why trained facilitators are worth their weight in gold. Trained facilitators create and lead engaging, impactful conversations that help teams make crucial progress on their most important initiatives.
They offer five powerful skills that move meetings—and important initiatives—forward:
Facilitators provide structure
Typically, a team drafts an agenda in advance of a key meeting to outline what needs to be covered. The agenda lays out a timeline, topics, and who will lead the discussion. But there’s a difference between an agenda and a plan. The former is a list; the latter is a strategy for how the work will get done.
A skilled facilitator builds a plan to guide discussion, remove obstacles, get people thinking, and make decisions. (At XPLANE, we lean heavily on our core principles of visual thinking, co-creation, and human-centered design to craft inclusive facilitation plans structured to build on successes. More on that later.)
Facilitators manage participation
We’ve all been in meetings where a few people dominate the discussion while others stare blankly at their laptops. Meetings like this are deadly boring. Even worse, they rarely generate innovative ideas or help teams weigh difficult decisions.
A good facilitator finds a balance between meeting objectives and creating an engaging experience for participants—and work to bring everyone into the discussion. Getting everyone involved at the right level of engagement makes clear that the smartest person in the room is the room.
Facilitators offer neutrality
Key meetings often go awry because of biases participants bring with them. The senior manager with the not-so-hidden agenda? The junior staffer who stays silent rather than disagree with their boss?
It’s easy to see why these single-minded biases exist, but they can easily keep teams from creating momentum and success. A seasoned facilitator removes these biases by creating safe spaces and managing activities with objectivity.
Facilitators clarify issues
At XPLANE, we often encounter team members working together on critical initiatives who somehow have divergent understandings of key project details or different definitions of key terms or activities under discussion. In fact, this is more common than you might think, and the lack of shared understanding can derail initiatives very quickly.
A skilled facilitator is adept at listening actively to the discussion and can pick up on these sometimes-subtle discrepancies in time to stop the conversation and create clarity.
Truly good facilitators are also accustomed to thinking on their feet, enabling them to pivot from the agenda and make room for clarifying discussions or other activities when they see the need.
Facilitators make progress faster
If there’s a single reason beyond any other that best argues for skilled facilitation, it’s productivity. Skilled facilitators help you get more done in your work sessions and meetings.
That’s because a professional facilitator frees your entire team to focus deeply on the work at hand by managing your time, energy, resources, and agenda. These professionals know when to allow freewheeling conversations and when to rein them in. They know when you’re struggling with a decision and how to get you moving again. And they know how to get your entire team to align to that decision—allowing you to walk out of the room clear in your direction and confident in your next steps.
Enhance Your Facilitation Skills
Facilitation is not a role you play. It’s a skill you learn, one that delivers tremendous benefits for your organization.
Because we strongly believe in the value of skilled facilitation, XPLANE has created a new facilitation course, Design Your Facilitation Strategy, based on our nearly 30 years of experience in leading workshops, seminars, and other key meetings.
This course is designed to help leaders take their skills to the next level by learning how to build and plan purposeful workshops and meetings.
And to learn more about planning effective meetings, we recommend the following tools and resources:
- Workshop Planning Canvas (this free tool helps you make critical planning decisions for designing an effective workshop or meeting)
- 3 Tips for Better Facilitation
- Five Surefire Signs You Need an Outside Facilitator Now
- Ten Tips for Running a Successful Workshop
- Facilitating Collaborative Change eBook (this resource offers 15 curated methods core to any facilitation)