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The Role of? The Facilitator?- Understanding What Facilitators Really DO! - Free Article

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The Role of  The Facilitator - Understanding What Facilitators Really DO!

In this classic and oft referenced article, Robert Bacal offers some basic explanations about the role of facilitators in thje modern workplace, and what they actually can do and bring to the table. In plain English, and a good primer for managers or human resources staff considering hiring a facilitator.

Most people associate the word "facilitator"with the training environment.  Often, that person at the front of the room leading a training sessions, is  referred to as the course facilitator. While it is true that some seminar  leaders do "facilitate", the facilitation role is often important in other areas.  For example, the chairperson at a meeting often takes on the responsibility  for facilitating the meeting, rather than "running it". The government  employee involved in mediation of disputes between other parties is also a  facilitator. Human resources staff members often facilitate discussions in  various contexts. And staff that work with groups of stakeholders and  members of the public may be well advised to take on a facilitating role  rather than a directing one. 

For those of you who already are involved in facilitating, or those of you  that may do so in the future, we are going to look at what the facilitation  role entails. 

Basic Definition 

A facilitator is an individual who's job is to help to manage a process of  information exchange. While an  expert's" role is to offer advice,  particularly about the content of a discussion, the facilitator's role is to help  with HOW the discussion is proceeding. 

In short, the facilitator's responsibility is to address the journey, rather than  the destination. 

When Facilitation is Appropriate 

A facilitation approach is appropriate when the organization is concerned  not only with the decision that is made, but also with the way the decision  is made. For example, an organization may be moving away from an  autocratic style of management to a participatory one. So, to encourage  staff to embrace more involvement, the manager may choose to act as a  facilitator rather than an expert or the final arbiter for the decision. In this  situation longer term process goals become as important as getting a good  decision. 

As another example, let's envision a government employee who's task is to  communicate with members of the public/interest groups regarding  legislation and regulation. Since one purpose of this communication is to  reduce resistance to legislation and regulations, the employee can choose a  more facilitative, consultative role, rather than being a simple "bearer of  information". In this case, the facilitation role is more likely to encourage  others to be more cooperative. 

Competencies & Characteristics 

If you are involved in facilitation (even if you've never called it that), or  may be involved, you might want to consider the competencies and  characteristics of an effective facilitator as outlined by the Institute of  Cultural Affairs (Canada). 


The facilitator:   

  • distinguishes process from content
  • manages the client relationship and prepares thoroughly
  • uses time and space intentionally
  • is skilled in evoking participation and creativity
  • practiced in honouring the group and affirming its wisdom
  • capable of maintaining objectivity
  • skilled in reading the underlying dynamics of the group
  • releases blocks to the process
  • adapts to the changing situation
  • assumes (or shares) responsibility for the group journey
  • demonstrates professionalism, self-confidence and authenticity
  • maintains personal integrity

The facilitator commits to a style of: 

  • asking rather than telling
  • paying personal compliments
  • willing to spend time in building relationships rather than always being
  • task-oriented
  • initiating conversation rather than waiting for someone else to
  • asking for other's opinions rather than always having to offer their own
  • negotiating rather than dictating decision-making
  • listening without interrupting
  • emoting but able to be restrained when the situation requires it
  • drawing energy from outside themselves rather than from within
  • basing decisions upon intuitions rather than having to have facts
  • has sufficient self-confidence that they can look someone in the eye when
  • talking to them
  • more persuasive than sequential
  • more enthusiastic than systematic
  • more outgoing than serious
  • more like a counsellor than a sergeant
  • more like a coach than a scientist
  • is naturally curious about people, things and life in general
  • can keep the big picture in mind while working on the nitty-gritty


If you have a natural task-oriented style you may find it difficult to be  thrust in a situation where facilitating is a more effective approach. It isn't  always easy to give up the expert"position in a group. You may find it  useful to examine your involvement in group activities, whether as a formal  leader or group member, and determine if you can translate the above  characteristics and competencies into changes in your behaviour that will  allow you to contribute more effectively to the group, and to achieving your  organization's goals. 

About Company

Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992. Since then Robert has trained thousands of employees to deal with angry, hostile, abusive and potentially violent customers. He has authored over 20 books on various subjects, many published by McGraw-Hill.


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