Creating a new project? Building a new partnership? Embarking on a strategic planning process? Building collaboration between multiple stakeholders or between one or more teams in an organization? All of these scenarios benefit from the skills of an experienced and skilled facilitator.
What is a professional facilitator?
A professional facilitator is someone who has been trained by a recognized organization and/or academic institution. In Canada, several recognized organizations that train facilitators are: the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution at St. Paul’s University – https://www.cicr-icrc.ca/en/  ,
the Justice Institute – https://www.jibc.ca/ , and the Institute of Cultural Affairs – which also has an international/parent organization – http://www.ica-international.org/. A facilitator may also be certified by the International Association of Facilitators – https://www.iaf-world.org/site/. 
Role of a Facilitator
A facilitator’s role is to guide a group; to make it easier for a group to do its work. A facilitator takes the words and thoughts of participants and records them on a flipchart or laptop with projection. Facilitators are trained in processes to build consensus, prevent conflict and encourage creativity.
A facilitator has a strong process function versus being a content expert. Thus the role of a facilitator is not to contribute content, but rather to encourage the active participation of all group members and to ensure that their ideas are recorded as they stated them. In fact, people tend to get annoyed if you change the words they give you to your own.
It is helpful when facilitating groups to understand their “language” and the sector to which they belong. This enables you to know when groups are “getting off track” and to more easily summarize the ideas raised. It is also useful to encourage people to speak in “bullets” or “headlines” and there are various processes to assist participants to do this.
An effective facilitator is able to:
- Create a safe environment
- Summarize main points
- Use eye contact
- Identify and interpret non-verbal messages; e.g. frowns and body language
- Speak clearly
- Write legibly
- Ascertain if and when a group is “getting off track” and “bring them back on track”
Additional characteristics that are helpful to have as a facilitator are:
- A good sense of humor
- An interest in and sensitivity to people from diverse backgrounds
- Lots of energy.
There are many styles of facilitation and each facilitator develops their own unique approach.
Benefits of an Outside Neutral Facilitator
You may be a leader, project manager or changemaker who has some facilitation expertise. If so, that is valuable. That said, it is useful to hire an outside facilitator for the following reasons:
- They are a neutral third party and don’t have any biases or strong affiliations with any of the involved stakeholders
- They can free you up as a leader to observe the group and team dynamics
- They can enable you to contribute your ideas as a group member
- They can provide a valuable “outsider” perspective on the group and its dynamics.
The Power of Facilitated Processes
I’ve witnessed first-hand the power of a well-designed and facilitated process. An example is while leading the design team of an international development project in Nigeria that was to be implemented in 2 states – one in the Muslim North and one in the Christian South. With the support of my team, I facilitated a process whereby the key stakeholders in each state had the opportunity to identify their current situation, vision a desired future (after 5 years of project support), identify the gaps between NOW and THEN and what support they needed to move toward their vision. The participants in each state identified someone to present their key findings to a national workshop held a week later in the capital city. My team supported each representative to prepare a PowerPoint of the key workshop outputs to present at the national workshop.
Partway through the national workshop, the head of Policy and Planning in the Muslim state stood up and said “Brothers and sisters, I thought we were so different from you. I believed we were not as advanced as you educationally and that our challenges and visions would be totally different. Hearing you present today I now realize that we are essentially the same; you face the same challenges as we do and have a similar vision. I am so looking forward to working together with you to turn our vision into reality!”
Another participant stood up and exclaimed, “This is the first conference I’ve been to in this country where students have been together with representatives of different levels of government, health providers and academia. Students should be here as THEY are the leaders of tomorrow!”
Such peak experiences are highlights of this work. They make me passionate about the opportunity to design and facilitate processes that bring diverse groups of people together, change beliefs, foster collaboration, and create initiatives that make a difference.
Well-designed and facilitated processes have the power to:
- Foster increased understanding (e.g. among different cultural and religious groups)
- Model and promote collaboration within an organization
- Create new partnerships
- Build ownership; and
- Foster creativity and innovation.
If you have a new project you’re
designing, a multistakeholder initiative you’re working on, need some visioning
or a new strategic plan, I’d love to speak with you. Please
to book a Discovery Session.
 Where I received my initial training in facilitation, mediation and conflict resolution
 I was a member of the first group of facilitators who were certified in Canada by the International Association of Facilitators.