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What is facilitation and what does a facilitator really do?

In facilitation (to make easy), the parties use a process expert (the facilitator), to create ideas or solve a problem, or develop a plan so as to avoid problems. Generally the facilitator is neutral in regard to the process outcome, but is the master of the process the group will use to solve that problem, create a solution, or plan/build/create a strategic plan. Your facilitator is not a mere “meeting manager” or “discussion foreperson” used to keep order in your meeting. Your facilitator is the communication process expert, and may even be a subject matter expert (SME) in your organization’s field. As a neutral-process expert, the facilitator is not vested in the outcome the group creates. 

The facilitator will co-create an agenda with the client so that an open, safe, transparent, and participative environment is created in which all parties can contribute in a consensus-building discussion/exercise. The client and facilitator will collaboratively and clearly define specific goals and objectives for each facilitated session.

Defining Facilitation: Michael Wilkinson defines facilitation this way: “A facilitated session is a highly structured meeting in which the meeting leader (the facilitator) guides the participants though a series of predefined steps to arrive at a result that is created, understood, and accepted by all participants” (p. 23). Roger Schwartz, author of The Skilled Facilitator asserts, “A facilitator is a substantively neutral third party, acceptable to all members of the group, who has no substantive decision-making authority.” Schwarz further claims that there are five different roles a facilitator can fulfill: 

·      Facilitator as a process expert, neutral on the content

·      Facilitative Consultant, an expert in both the process and the content

·      Facilitative Coach as a process expert and who gets involved in the content, but leaves the decision-making up to the client

·      Facilitative Trainer who helps the client develop knowledge and skills, and

·      Facilitative Leader as the formal or informal leader of a group who both manages the process though diagnosis and intervention, and manages the structure of the group to meet the goals and objectives of the organization

Facilitation is appropriate when an issue has been discovered, yet the solution is not readily apparent (problem-solving). Facilitation is also appropriate for strategic planning, generating predetermined conflict mitigation processes (partnering facilitation), group and/or team-building, and for exploring and/or generating new and old ideas or concepts. In a facilitated outcome, all resolutions/solutions must be created with buy-in (consensus) from all parties in order for the solution to be durable and successful over time. 

Facilitation is not generally appropriate when there is no need to create a solution, the issue(s) is/are far too complex and the right experts are not present, and/or confidentiality keeps all members from being fully informed whereby they cannot collaboratively create or craft a consensus based solution within the given time constraints. Facilitated sessions may last a couple of hours or may go on for years as the solution and organization mature over time. 

If you want to know more about facilitation or what a MAFN facilitator may be able to do for you, please do not hesitate to contact a MAFN board member (info@MAFN.org) or use the “Find-a-Facilitator” function on the MAFN website to discuss opportunities with a specific facilitator who may fit your situation. 

@2018, MAFN 

A NETWORK OF GROUP FACILITATORS SERVING THE MID-ATLANTIC REGION

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