By definition, a facilitator is “a person…that makes an action or process easy or easier.” If ever there was an insufficient definition for something, this is it.

Effective facilitators have to wear many hats in any given session. The role encompasses presentation abilities, training abilities, people skills, project management – and more. This person has to keep the group focused, take them deeper with a topic, and (sometimes) keep a potentially volatile situation at bay. This is a dynamic role in which the facilitator is delivering important content and helping to engage productive interactions without necessarily knowing as much as the individuals he or she is facilitating.

In short, a good facilitator is focused on the topic at hand, the interaction process and participants, and the optimal path to reach the objective. This is a complex balancing act that requires numerous skill sets.

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We have identified eight distinct roles that a facilitator is likely to play during a session.

  1. Motivator: From the rousing opening statement to the closing words of cheer, you ignite a fire within the group, establish momentum, and keep the pace.
  2. Guide: You know the steps of the process the group will execute from beginning to end and carefully guide the participants through each step in turn.
  3. Questioner: You listen carefully to the discussion and quickly analyze comments to formulate questions that help guide a productive group discussion and challenge the group when appropriate.
  4. Bridge Builder: You create and maintain a safe and open environment for sharing ideas. Where other people see differences, you find and use similarities to establish a foundation for building bridges to consensus.
  5. Clairvoyant: Throughout the session, you are attuned to signs of strain, weariness, aggravation, and disempowerment, and respond in advance to prevent dysfunctional behavior.
  6. Peacemaker: Although it is generally better to avoid direct confrontations, should it happen, you step in quickly to reestablish order and direct the group toward a constructive resolution.
  7. Taskmaster: You are ultimately responsible for keeping the session on track. This entails tactfully cutting short irrelevant discussions, preventing detours, and maintaining a consistent level of detail throughout the session.
  8. Praiser: At every opportunity, you should praise participants for good effort, progress, and results – praise well, praise often, praise specifically.

It can seem difficult to pinpoint impact of a professional facilitation. By understanding all of the many roles that a professional facilitator must play during a session, however, you are equipped to ask the right questions and evaluate whether your facilitator will ensure efficient use of resources (time and money), high participation, and productive outcomes.