As an educator more and more I am required to be a facilitator. It is a skill that requires you to give up a degree of power in the classroom or workshop. I liken a facilitator to Magic Johnson when he was point guard of the Los Angeles Lakers. Magic was a very talented point guard and had the ability to play all five positions on a court. He could easily have been a ball hog and taken control of a game but his role of facilitator required him to get all players involved and make everyone great. A good facilitator has to recognize when to step into a situation and when to step back. How do you gain those skills as a facilitator? Its very easy, PRACTICE – to perform or exercise repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.
What happens when your practice does not mimic an experience you are about to encounter. I recently had an experience in facilitation that that brought me into unfamiliar territory. I was hosting a meetup event for The Teachers Guild. I was expecting close to 20 participants at this event. My previous experiences with the Guild have all involved virtual coaching so this was truly a new endeavor. My gameplan was set and my previous experiences with facilitation would be displayed. Only four people showed up! It was a little disappointing, but reflecting back it was understandable. High School Graduations were taking place at various schools, it was exam time and many people were planning for memorial day weekend. So as a facilitator what was I to do in that moment.
My facilitation prep for 20 people, became a small intimate fireside chat. Instead of standing at the front of the room talking down to my small group. I sat at the table with them and had more of a conversation. The workshop was centered around Empathy Interviewing and Prototyping and in essence I was testing my ability to facilitate in a small group. Things I learned: (1) small group facilitation can get a little uncomfortable because there is no place for participates to hide, (2) because of the intimate setting you get to know your participates a lot better, (3) the encounters can be more meaningful because you become a close knit group.
Still consider the following, give the members of the small group space and time to plan without you as facilitator always being in the mix. Do not make members feel uncomfortable by forcing them to speak, allow it to come natural. Yes and spread the conversation around so that all members are active. Push them to allow their ideas to go deeper but read body language to identify when you are getting pushy. Ask questions to gain insights from the group, while helping they go deeper but avoid being annoying.
The art of facilitation can be a wonderful skill once you get the hang of it. In the classroom it can take the burden off of the teacher and get students involved. Amongst peers great facilitation can turn an us against them professional development into a team effort. When you “master” facilitation you realize you are not giving up power but gaining more power and influence. Remember perfect practice makes perfect.
How Might You handle small group facilitation?