WITH globalisation, rapid technological advances and intrusive social media connections, there is a growing perception of social inequity or distance between people. These are all part of the challenges people face today.

Groups, teams, organisations and communities have been challenged to achieve their desired results and aspirations in the face of rising social media connections and unpredictable market conditions.

Work teams and groups may find themselves at a critical crossroads, with little idea of how to move forward or choose which opportunity to seize, needing higher quality dialogues to do so.

This is where facilitation can play a key role in creating positive ways for a constructive information exchange. It can be a great lever to strengthen groups, address the change journey and promote good societal outcomes.

To “facilitate” is to make something easier, help move an action forward and assist the progress of a group of people. As a facilitator, key questions I often ask myself are:

•  What will I do differently or better in my facilitation of this session to produce valuable outcomes for this workgroup?

•  What outcomes does this group need to accomplish? and

•  How can I support those outcomes when facilitating today?

 

Key components

In small group conversations, which are dialogues among a team of six to eight people, the facilitator encourages them to exchange thoughts, feelings and ideas. Participants are mindful of the following guidelines:

•  Hold one conversation at a time;

•  Listen and share views respectfully;

•  Keep an open mind;

•  Be fully present; and

•  Maintain a safe environment for open conversation.

By being process-focused, the facilitator keeps the activity inviting and creative while maintaining a balance between an enjoyable procedure and efficient results. Participants can share their problems without fear of being judged, and the guided process throws up more open-ended questions that participants respond to, eventually arriving at their own effective solutions.

Facilitation core practices are:

•  Listening without interrupting;

•  Asking rather than telling (fact-finding questions, feeling-finding questions, best-or-worst-case questions, third-part questions, what-if questions, probing questions, reflective and scale questions); and

•  Paraphrasing, synthesising ideas, staying on track, giving and receiving feedback, testing assumptions, observing behaviours and providing summaries.

Key outcomes of small group process facilitations are the tangible output of ideas, suggestions, plans and consensus. The intangible outcomes of the engagements include the emotional results of participants, who leave the conversations feeling they have been heard and understood.

Facilitators provide an objective view of the facilitation process, act as a sounding board for ideas and are seen as a neutral party by the participants.

Methods

There are many facilitation methods which are practical and participatory.  As tools,  they allow different ways of seeing and thinking to be incorporated. They  also enable the groups to reach informed consensus and decisions with relative ease. Some tools are:

•  Dotmocracy: This is a format for collecting and recognising levels of agreement on written statements among a large number of people. Participants write down ideas on paper forms and fill in one dot per a sheet to record their opinion of each idea on a scale, for example, “strongly agree”, “agree”, “neutral”, “disagree” or “strongly disagree”.

•  Fish bowl discussion: Group dynamics are important and the fish bowl format allows a richer discussion by focusing attention on ways the group might work together more productively. The set-up comprises a circle of five to eight chairs, with additional rows of chairs radiating out from the centre. The central group engages in a discussion, while the outer group listens, and then rotates in.

•  World café: This format is used to host the conversation to brainstorm ideas from large groups. There are two to three rounds of small group discussions, with the groups breaking up and new groups forming in each round.

Between rounds, one person stays in the same location to be “table host” and welcome others. The facilitator may ask for highlights to share with the whole group between rounds, or wait until all the rounds are completed. The questions may change with each round, or the groups may stay with the same question and go deeper.

Amid increasingly intrusive social media connections, facilitation will play a key role in better quality conversations to explore ideas and opportunities for groups at work. Facilitators can guide groups in forging quality conversations for desirable outcomes.

 

Article by Dr Seow Bee Leng, on behalf of the 17th International Association of Facilitators (IAF Asia) Conference Organising Committee. The conference will be held here from Aug 14 to 16.  For details, visit http://iafasiaconference.iaf.sg/ or e-mail iafasia2014@iaf.sg