This entry is the first in a multiple part series on the “Facilitative Mind”. Our assumption is that to be an effective facilitator requires not only a particular skill set, but a certain mindset as well. Within this series we want to talk about the values, mindset, and intentional practices underlying successful facilitation. This particular entry will explore your style and range across three critical dimensions of group facilitation.
- Improvisation – the ability to remain consistently present to current conversation and to move it forward by orchestrating and intertwining various threads of conversation is vital to effective facilitation. It is indeed the job of the facilitator to take what is offered conversationally and weave it into an on-going scenario that continues to build on the contributions of participants, yet remain focused. Your range and style in this area is conditioned by your aptitude to stay in the moment and driven by your active listening skills. The extent to which the facilitator asks clarifying questions, paraphrases, reflects, and summarizes the group’s conversation will drive this scale.
- Structure – the ideal is to create a “structureless” structure. That is, to develop an underlying structure that supports and enables group interaction without being too directive or the structure being too visible to participants. Such a “structureless’ structure would entail attending to pre-interaction variables such as room size and layout, seating, agenda design, and political considerations. During group interaction maintaining a flow to the conversation, timekeeping, use of breaks, and assertive conversational leadership all contribute to a sense of structure without overly dictating or controlling participant engagement. Your style and range in this area is predicated on your knowledge of what is minimally required in each engagement and your attentiveness to the group dynamics.
- Balance – Four factors to be considered regarding balance are time, task, identify, and relationships. There is always a tension in sustaining pace (which contributes to energy and focus) and letting the conversation unfold (which contributes to voice, engagement, and buy-in). Hence, finding the right “balance” between pushing a group forward and nurturing the conversation is a range and style issue for facilitators. In addition, “balancing” the interplay between facilitating the task, managing participants’ identities, and enhancing the relational quality of the group is a formidable assignment for facilitators. Here again, different facilitators will approach this balancing act, with a variety of styles and ranges. Much of the variation will be dependent upon the facilitator’s own assessment of which of these four factors is most important in creating and sustaining effective dialogue.