Facilitator – Not super hero, not martyr

Facilitating a participatory process is not the job of one person. Even though those who are in the role of facilitator usually stand in front of the group where we can see and be seen by all the participants, we should not be the only ones actively supporting the group process.

Consider some of the tasks that need to be attended to in order for a meeting to go well. In your experience, which of these are clearly the job of the facilitator? (Note: If you do not usually have a facilitator, who does these tasks?)

A. Planning the agenda
B. Issuing the invitation
C. Recommending meeting room size and layout
D. Reserving the meeting room
E. Preparing material to be shared during the session
F. Arranging the chairs
G. Controlling the room temperature
H. Welcoming people as they arrive
I. Keeping track of the time during the session
J. Focusing the conversation
K. Detecting and working with conflicts
L. Seeking agreement and carrying out the decision-making process
M. Taking photos of the group
N. Cleaning up the room after the meeting
O. Editing and sharing the meeting minutes

If any one person (including the group leader) is doing all or most of these jobs, STOP! Consider the negative consequences of this approach, including the following three possibilities.

  • Diluted focus. The facilitator’s energy and attention are diluted, making him/her less effective in the key parts of the job. (Which of the activities listed above do you think are among the facilitator’s primary tasks? See our answer at the end of this article.)
  • Lack of shared ownership. When other members of the group are deprived of the opportunity to share responsibility for their own process, they tend to become passive, apathetic and/or disconnected from the needs of the group as a whole. They think of themselves merely as meeting “attendees” or ”observers,” not as active participants in a collaborative initiative.
  • Burnout. Relying only on the designated facilitator to handle all aspects of the meeting process is unsustainable. Sooner or later, the facilitator becomes exhausted, frustrated, angry. Worse yet, this facilitator feels like a failure, which in a way is true. He or she has failed to grasp that effective facilitation is a team endeavor.

ACTION: Have a conversation with your team or group about the process-related jobs that need to be done before, during and after every meeting. Ask yourselves “Who is doing these jobs now? Who else could be recruited to help? What would be the possible risks and rewards of involving more people?”

Keep in mind that the role of the facilitator is to serve the group. No heroics. No martyrdom. Just good teamwork.

Answers: We think that the facilitator’s key tasks are A, C, H, I, J, K and L. Does this match your answers?


About the Author:

Beatrice Briggs is the founder and director of the International Institute for Facilitation and Change, a consulting firm based in Mexico. A Certified™ Professional Facilitator, she puts her years of experience at the service of leaders who want to make their meetings worth the time, talent and money invested in them. A native of the United States, Beatrice has lived in Mexico since 1998, working in both English and Spanish to alleviate the suffering caused by bad meetings wherever they occur.