Explainer Series

What skills do you need to be a facilitator?

Explainer by Lian Le Chew

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Last updated on 28 June 2021Comments

Bring any group of intelligent, dedicated, and outspoken people into a room, and you have great potential - a potential to solve pressing issues, and even more of a potential to create chaos.


Working together is challenging, despite all the best intentions, and it takes considerable skills and training to be the one who can help a group of students or professionals to navigate the around common pitfalls and be productive.

That is why professional facilitators are becoming more and more in demand.

What is a Facilitator? What is his role?

At the most basic level, a facilitator is a person with the ability to help groups come together and work towards getting the best possible results. Facilitators are able to do this by fostering an environment where both creativity and freedoms of thought and expression thrive within a structured framework. Whether the goal is brainstorming new ways to market a traditional business or actively engaging higher education students with inspiring student-led discussions, an experienced and trained facilitator is invaluable.

Education facilitators do not have a single role to play. Instead, they draw upon a number of academic disciplines as diverse as learning theory, psychology, project management, and communication to ensure the class or workshop run smoothly and that all the participants are capable of meeting the goals of the session. These objectives may be as varied as conflict resolution and consensus-building and require someone who can act simultaneously as a muse, a referee, a master of ceremonies, a cheerleader, and a disciplinarian.

What is the difference between a trainer and a facilitator?

People often confuse the role of a trainer and a facilitator. It is critical to understand that they are not the same and have entirely different and opposing objectives. While trainers are instructors who impart knowledge to others, facilitators are not responsible for any transference of information at all. In fact, it is not uncommon for professional facilitators in a business setting to lack a deep understanding of the subject. Education facilitators however need to embrace both roles.

The facilitators need to have the ability to separate themselves intellectually and emotionally from the topic at hand and instead focus on establishing and maintaining the class' procedures and policies.

What skills do you need to be a facilitator?

No one is born a facilitator, but a person can learn how to become one. A professional facilitator must be capable of a wide range of broad skills.

The following are six essential competencies that all facilitators must master in order to perform well in their positions:

1. Maintaining neutrality when necessary.

The ability to guide a group with divergent ideas without consciously or subconsciously influencing anyone is difficult. People are not naturally neutral, and it takes a high level of awareness and control for a facilitator to keep his own convictions under wraps. Still, it is a skill that a good facilitator requires in some situations. Many businesses hire outside facilitators specifically for their ability to avoid taking sides. On the other hand, some facilitators have the take helping to push a particular agenda. In these instances, it requires a facilitator to take a subtle, light touch when steering a group to a preferred outcome without stifling engagement from all participants.

2. Communicating clearly and positively.

Without proper communication holding a workshop is just a colossal waste of everyone's time. A facilitator not only needs to feel comfortable and be confident when speaking to groups of people, but he must also be able to be clear and concise with his words. This is especially true when providing instructions for group activities or asking questions to stimulate further discussion. But, a good communicator not only knows how to speak but, more importantly, how to listen. Excellent facilitators are active listeners who are able to clarify and expand on attendees' comments by using effective and inclusive follow-up questions.

3. Creating positive and possibly new group dynamics.

Sometimes facilitators deal with groups of strangers, but more often, they need to lead workshop and classes with those who already know each other well. Although one may think that creating synergy between unknown people would be more difficult, that is often not the case. The more challenging situation is typically the second scenario where people have established working relations. Existing hierarchies, preconceived prejudices, and set expectations can stymie creativeness and lower the chance of a positive outcome. A good facilitator can recognize these potential hindrances and form new group dynamics to reduce their influence.

4. Managing time effectively.

Time is one resource that is impossible to replace, and a good facilitator is someone who not only is adept at using the available workshop's allotted time to the fullest but can pace activities in such a way to maintain the energy and enthusiasm of the attendees. Accomplishing this requires a solid understanding of group dynamics, a talent for planning, and the mental agility to make on-the-fly adjustments. Ensuring classes flow smoothly without participants feeling either rushed or bored can seem almost impossible at first, but with the proper techniques and plenty of experience, it is possible.

5. Keeping spirits and energy levels up.

It is just a fact of human nature. Few people are excited about attending another class. This is typically the case no matter the topic nor its level of importance. This reluctance of some participants to openly involve themselves in what is going on during a session can prevent the entire group from reaching its objectives. One of the primary purposes of a facilitator is to find ways of inspiring attendees to push past any initial doubt and feel confident and inspired enough to contribute to the process even if they were initially unmotivated to do so. There are multiple methods for achieving this, from the goofy to the more refined. A skilled facilitator knows which to use to fit the situation and more critically to match with the particular members of the group.

6. Displaying unflappable composure and patience.

Things go wrong. Discussions get heated, technology fails, and classrooms rarely go as planned despite even the best preparations. No matter what happens, a good facilitator mustn't appear fazed. While some individuals tend to be more resilient than others, the best protection against becoming flustered is through the proper facilitator training program. Although the field of professional facilitators is relatively new, there are several well-received educational options available.


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Lian Le Chew

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