What is a facilitator and when should you use one?

A facilitator is simply a person that makes an action or process easier for those involved. 

A facilitator will plan, guide and manage a group to ensure that their objectives are met effectively, with clear thinking, and good participation from everyone involved. The facilitator will ensure that the group’s goals are clear and should provide defined outcomes or actions that continue to help the group achieve goals long after the event is over.

A good facilitator understands how groups function. They’re familiar with group processes, the barriers to decision-making and the different ways people participate and learn. 

When do groups use a facilitator? 

Facilitators are commonly used by organisations of all sizes, companies and governments for:

  • strategic planning sessions
  • achieving a specific outcome at a meetin
  • team retreats or team building activities
  • to conceive and develop a new group or organisation
  • rebranding or restructure
  • AGMs where the following year’s intent is devised.

Facilitators are skilled at resolving conflict and managing expectations and concerns. Most importantly, a good facilitator will keep it fun! Participants will be encouraged to engage which results in participants feeling heard and inspired.

Over the past 20 years, Wombat Creative director Samantha Morris has teamed up with not-for-profits, NGOs and government bodies to provide facilitation services at all levels – sometimes that’s to revisit a strategic plan or mission and vision and sometimes it’s to agree on a new direction. Sam says when looking for a facilitator, keep the end goal in mind.

“Facilitators do much more than just lead a conversation,” Samantha said. “Firstly, they should be neutral and allow everyone to have a say. They’ll be skilled at drawing people into the conversation who might otherwise not participate.”

The most important thing to look for in a facilitator is that they’ll work well with your members or staff. Choose a faciliator that understands your mission and vision and any jargon that might arise. Choose one who can think on their feet and modify a process if it’s simply not working. And finally, make sure you agree on what they provide post-event. – Samantha Morris

When to use a professional facilitator?

  • The outcomes are critical and the results are essential to a group’s success.
  • There are complex problems to solve and conflicting information or opinions need to be synthesised or a creative view taken.
  • Ownership of results is needed so that the group takes full responsibility of the outcomes.
  • Neutrality is required to encourage participation and unbiassed outcomes.

A good facilitator will work with you to agree on an outcome and explore processes that might work with your members or staff. 

Four questions to ask when engaging a facilitator

  1. How varied is your facilitation experience? (ask for a previous client’s list or evidence of outcomes)
  2. How will you guide discussions so that they are efficient and effective? (what tools does the facilitator draw on to keep discussions flowing)
  3. How will you encourage deep and varied communication in a group? (what experience does the facilitator have dealing with a variety of audience groups, communication styles and any conflict that might arise)
  4. How will you move discussions to decisions and actions? (how will the session be documented and what can you expect after the event)

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