01 Feb The Comprehensive Guide to Workshop Facilitation
Effective team collaboration is a difficult skill to master for any group of people.
Traditional workplace scenarios fail to handle some of the most significant challenges associated with teamwork, including disparities in working styles, the inevitable presence of politics in any group environment, and uneven distribution of information.
Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results. — Andrew Carnegie
Some of the most productive teams in the world don’t rely on luck, but instead, bank on having a facilitator in the room who can direct them to the best possible outcomes through guided decision-making and problem-solving.
Every successful workshop relies on effective facilitation. But running a workshop can be intimidating, especially at first.
What does the word “facilitate” even mean? What do you hope to achieve as a facilitator? What is important to focus on? These are the logical first inquiries you should make as a facilitator.
This article talks about the basics of facilitating a successful workshop.
If you’re completely new to the world of workshops in general, please start with our article What Is a Workshop and How It Can Boost Productivity? to help you get started.
What is Workshop Facilitation?
Workshop facilitation is the process of guiding a group through a series of processes, including gathering necessary information, recognizing problems, brainstorming potential solutions, and finalizing a course of action.
To put it another way: it is a method employed to ensure that teamwork is not only easy and fruitful but also fun for everyone involved.
Facilitating a workshop entails assisting the group in reaching its collective goals through a process of co-creation and interactive discourse.
To guarantee that participants in a workshop are guided, rather than managed or controlled, facilitators must employ appropriate skills and strategies depending on the circumstances.
One of the primary goals of a facilitator is to ensure that the group achieves tangible results.
It’s about making sure that every voice is heard and that decisions can be implemented after workshop sessions, without succumbing to ‘design by committee’.
The primary objective is to stimulate teamwork and reveal hidden talents, thus inspiring everyone to operate at their fullest capacity.
Who is a Facilitator?
A facilitator is a skilled decision-maker and problem-solver who can lead a group through a planned, sequential process that guarantees successful results.
Some of the roles of a facilitator include:
➡️ Organize, lead, and moderate a workshop to help a group find a solution to a challenge they’ve been facing.
➡️ Make sure that the workshop activities and procedures are tailored to the team’s specific needs and goals.
➡️ Assist in dispute resolution by listening to opposing viewpoints and remaining neutral throughout.
➡️ Support the team in expressing their best ideas by applying the appropriate facilitation methods and frameworks.
➡️ Help teams to achieve their full potential by relieving them of the burden of decision-making administration so that they can concentrate on solving the problem at hand.
➡️ Create a smooth working environment for teams by ensuring that everyone’s ideas are acknowledged and that team politics are kept to a minimum.
Please keep in mind: the role of a competent facilitator is to help a group reach its best results, not to resolve problems on the team’s behalf.
Qualities of a Good Facilitator
There are a couple of qualities that must be present in facilitators, which would enable them to carry out the job properly.
Anyone who wants to become a great facilitator should get exceptionally good at all of these different aspects of the job.
1-Excellent facilitation skills
A competent facilitator knows how to put an end to a debate that’s going in circles, how to deal with disruptive participants, and how to keep their group focused and alert.
2-Sensitivity to timing
A competent facilitator can recognize when a group conversation has veered off track and must be cut short, or when the time allotted for an exercise has expired.
When a group session has run its course or when its participants have had enough of an exercise, a skilled facilitator can also quickly and efficiently get the conversation back on track.
3-In-depth familiarity with the principles of facilitation
A great facilitator is someone who not only understands the fundamentals of facilitation but also adds their own unique flavor to each workshop they lead.
Facilitation principles, when put into practice, make your job as a facilitator easier and the workshop experience more stimulating and interesting for everyone involved.
4-Willingness to collaborate
Working with others isn’t always easy. Moreover, it’s easy to fall into the trap of playing the position of instructor rather than that of facilitator and guide.
A skilled facilitator, however, is aware that they play the role of a guide rather than a hero.
They are not there to impress anyone with their knowledge or coolness, but rather to aid the team in producing the best possible results.
5-An objective viewpoint
A facilitator should give the team members the freedom to air their contributions and brainstorm together.
A biased facilitator is one who steers a debate toward a desired outcome, and this defeats the purpose of facilitation.
6-A comprehensive toolkit
A facilitator should possess a large collection of tried-and-true techniques for dealing with every situation, from brainstorming to making a final decision.
Flexibility increases as you get experience leading various exercises; thus, your workshops improve.
7-Proven workshop recipes
Workshop recipes are a collection of activities that complement one another and yield potent results when used together.
Many effective recipes are available out there, based on Design Thinking methods like the Design Sprint to the Innovation Sprint to libraries of workshop activities. These resources can all be used to create the ideal workshop for your team.
Applying all these facilitation skills is essential if you really want to master the art of facilitation.
Goals of Facilitation
When it comes to workshop facilitation, there are several factors to consider. But what are the most essential goals to remember?
Here are the most important key objectives that facilitation seeks to accomplish:
1-Open and cooperative decision-making
The success of a workshop depends on participants’ commitment to its outcomes, both the abstract (a common vocabulary and set of concepts) and the concrete (lists of tasks and actions).
Collective ownership and responsibility for outcomes from workshops are achieved through participatory decision-making.
All participants are expected to be vocal about their opinions and suggestions, and work together to make decisions for the good of the project.
2-Promoting effective participation
A group’s facilitator should be someone who safeguards the group’s democracy.
The facilitator’s job is to make everyone in the group feel at ease when offering input. That involves giving people a place and a voice where they can share their own insights and opinions freely.
Many methods exist for accomplishing this, but the diverge-and-converge technique is by far the most common.
In this method, participants first think independently, then share their ideas with one another through activities led by the facilitator.
3-Collective responsibility and accountability
The facilitator’s job is to ensure that everyone leaves the workshop with a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities.
Through exercises and discussion, everyone in the workshop knows what they should do next.
This shared sense of responsibility is what makes workshops productive and motivates participants to keep working together.
The facilitator’s responsibility is to ensure that all participants are on the same page.
Most of the time, the facilitator is able to accomplish this by developing a common vocabulary for the team and then supporting that vocabulary with concrete images (such as canvases ) and artifacts (like posters).
Most Common Misconceptions About Facilitation
One of the first steps in being a competent facilitator and developing the necessary skills is understanding the concept of facilitating.
It is therefore essential that we address some of the most widespread misconceptions about facilitation right away.
Not only can they prevent you from getting started in the first place, but they can also hinder your facilitation skills by diverting your attention elsewhere.
Misconception #1: As the facilitator, it is your responsibility to propose the most effective solution.
The job of a skilled facilitator is to get people thinking constructively, not to find an answer to the problem facing the team as a whole.
That’s why a facilitator needs to adopt the perspective; Be the guide, not the hero.
This changes the role of the facilitator from that of the hero to that of the guide, or the one assisting others in achieving their full potential.
To put it plainly, there is no need to demonstrate your superiority in any way.
It not only relieves the pressure of figuring out the problem yourself, but it also allows the facilitator to focus on the group, their needs and the workshop’s smooth running.
Misconception #2: The facilitator must have extensive knowledge of the topic at hand.
Most people believe that they can’t facilitate a workshop because they don’t have a lot of knowledge about the industry.
The point is, though, you don’t have to know everything about every field to run an effective workshop.
As earlier said, you can’t expect to fix the team’s problems as a facilitator; instead, you should help them make decisions and bring out their best qualities.
It’s true that you’ll benefit from having specialists in the field present, but that doesn’t imply you, the facilitator, should assume that responsibility.
The facilitator shouldn’t have to do all the heavy lifting alone; rather, the group should provide all the necessary knowledge and experience.
Facilitators need mainly be familiar with group dynamics, appropriate decision-making methods, and the optimal way to guide the group toward its desired result.
The goal is to facilitate the team’s growth by helping them recognize their own talents and potential.
Misconception #3: You have to be extroverted to facilitate a workshop successfully
It is true that facilitation would require you speaking in front of people, but you don’t necessarily have to be an extrovert to pull that off.
The workshop will not yield good results if you rely solely on your extroverted personality to get through it.
Even though many of the best facilitators we know are naturally reserved, that hasn’t stopped them from leading productive workshops for companies like Lego and Google, among other industry leaders.
Knowing the fundamental norms of facilitation and putting them into practice, as well as having a wide array of activities at your disposal, are essential for leading a group with confidence.
Essential Principles of Facilitation
Now that we’ve discussed the meaning of facilitation, the role and qualities of a facilitator, the goals of facilitation, and the most common misconceptions about facilitation, we can move on to the heart of learning how to moderate effectively: the key principles of facilitation.
These principles might look intimidating when you first come across them, but the more experience you have leading workshops, the more these ideas will become second nature to you.
1-A workshop is only as good as its team
The success of the workshop depends on the quality of the team that is assembled, but this is easier said than done.
There’s a fine line to walk between inviting too few and losing control over the workshop’s direction and pace, and inviting too many and overwhelming the facilitators with information and requests.
As a rule of thumb: avoid overload by limiting the number of participants to no more than seven for each facilitator.
However, the mere quantity of participants is not the only determining factor.
It is crucial to assemble a well-rounded, multidisciplinary group capable of capturing all the necessary viewpoints.
You’ll save time in the long run, make sure everyone’s voices are heard, and increase the likelihood that the workshop’s conclusions will be put into practice once the event is over, if you invite the correct people to participate.
2-Set goals and expectations
Taking this one action will greatly improve the efficiency of your workshops.
Nothing ruins a good workshop faster than unfulfilled expectations. If you don’t address them, they will emerge organically inside the group.
Make it a standard practice to establish expectations at the beginning of the session to prevent your participants from feeling distracted, overwhelmed, or exhausted.
This is essential because workshops are typically very demanding. And not just for you as the facilitator, but also for the participants.
Because of the effort required to maintain focus for extended periods of time, absorb a great deal of material, and then put it into practice, workshop participants are very certain to experience feelings of exhaustion at some point.
Simply letting them know what to expect and making them understand the emotions they may experience will help prevent this.
As important as it is to set expectations, it is equally important to understand the expectations of the participants.
Facilitators can make their workshop attendees feel more at ease and gain insight into the areas in which they should invest more time by simply asking what they hope to achieve from this workshop.
3-Ensure everyone is on the same page
If you want your workshops to go off without a hitch and provide excellent results, this is one of the most crucial facilitation principles you must adopt.
It’s possible for an information gap to develop if one party has more knowledge than the other but isn’t sharing it with the other. This is a cognitive bias called “the curse of knowledge”, a term coined in 1989 by economists Colin Camerer, George Loewenstein, and Martin Weber.
In a workshop context, this could mean that you fail to adequately describe the exercises to your participants because you know the exercises inside and out, and may not realize that you have left out crucial details.
Here are some ways to avoid this:
☝️ Adopt the beginner’s mindset
Adopt the beginner’s mindset and ensure that all of your explanations are simple enough that a novice to the art of workshopping would understand.
☝️ Explain the bigger picture
Show the attendees the bigger picture of the workshop and keep bringing it up.
Keep in mind that your participants have no idea how or why the exercises you’ve chosen to use relate to one another. So, remember to convey it as you present new exercises.
If you don’t, the workshop as a whole will come out as haphazard and unplanned, and your attendees will feel lost and unengaged.
☝️ Avoid using technical terms or slang
Avoid using technical terms or slang, even if you assume that everyone would understand what you mean by using them.
Try to stick to terms that everyone can easily understand.
Don’t make an effort to appear intellectual. Remember to make things simple and straightforward for your audience.
4-Respect energy as a precious limited resource
The success of your workshop hinges on the energy you bring to the role of facilitator.
The trick here is to not try to cram as many activities into your day as possible, but rather to try to conserve your energy as much as possible.
You would assume that packing in as much value as possible will accentuate and highlight all the value you have to provide as a facilitator, but in reality, it would only leave your group exhausted and depleted by the end of the day.
Don’t schedule more than 3-4 hours of focused work activities per workshop day. Even if the session is scheduled for a full day, just fill the remaining time in between with lighter exercises and breaks.
When planning workshops, this guideline should always be taken into account.
5-Learn to improvise and be flexible
Running a workshop is not easy! There are lots of people, a variety of tools, and many moving parts involved.
As a facilitator, you must anticipate that things will not always go as planned.
The secret to any great facilitator is their ability to improvise. Therefore if you want to truly master the art of facilitating, you must learn to feel at ease with altering your workshop plans as you go.
But improvising doesn’t mean not having a plan or not being well prepared. Not at all!
To improvise well, it’s important to be well-equipped with a wide range of facilitation resources, methods, and skills, as well as to have a few facilitation tricks up one’s sleeve.
If you want to succeed, you need to be able to keep calm in the face of challenges and not let setbacks rattle you.
Tips for Facilitating a Successful Workshop
Here are some additional tips which would help you facilitate a successful workshop and leave you and the rest of the team fulfilled at the end of it all.
1. Get to know the people involved: Whether you are an outside consultant or running an internal workshop, you should always get to know the other team members in advance so you can tailor the session to their needs and interests.
2. Determine the workshop’s purpose: When you know who will be in attendance at the workshop, you can get down to the business of making sure everyone has the same goal in mind.
No matter who came up with the concept of holding a workshop in the first place, it’s a good idea to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Make sure that everyone has the same expectations before proceeding.
3. Make sure the scene is set: Which of these states—calmness, energy, or relaxation—are you hoping your team members will experience?
Think of the room’s layout (even if it’s virtual), the arrangement of furnishings, and the background music that will be playing.
To put it simply, success depends on the details.
Did you know that we have a dedicated music playlist for workshops?
4. Review the ground rules: As the workshop facilitator, you should spend some time at the start to establish some ground rules: where the restrooms are, when the breaks will be, and what the expectations are for the day.
5. Encourage documentation: Documenting workshop results has traditionally fallen under the responsibility of the workshop facilitator.
The difficulty with this strategy is that the facilitator will end up taking credit for the group’s work rather than the group itself.
Not only does this lessen the dedication of the participants, but it also raises the possibility of misunderstandings.
You should instead encourage people to keep track of the workshop progress in whichever way feels natural to them, including pictures and videos.
6. Evaluate the goals at the end of the day: At the end of a session, address the question: did you, or did you not, succeed in accomplishing your goal?
If you did, then congrats! And if the answer is no, you need to figure out why you didn’t succeed and whether you should try again.
The facilitator’s job is to organize and guide the group’s efforts so that they can think creatively and effectively together.
Instead of taking leadership and trying to impose your will on the group, a good facilitator will encourage everyone to have a voice and work together toward a common goal.
Facilitators need to be objective, so they can stand back from making their own contributions and instead concentrate on the group’s process as a whole.
It’s their responsibility to ensure that workshop attendees come up with excellent solutions and sound conclusions.
As a facilitator, you are not expected to come up with brilliant ideas or make sound judgments. A workshop facilitator is a guide, not a hero.
Get in Touch
Would you like to learn more about workshops or need help facilitating them?
Give us a shout and we’ll be happy to discuss how we can support your next project.