Secrets of Successful Facilitators

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Secrets of Successful Facilitators We spent the past 10 years in some futile field research. We interviewed and observed several facilitators and the groups they facilitated in an attempt to identify the secrets of effective facilitation. These facilitators were selected on the basis of high ratings by their peers and participants for a positive process and productive results. Initial data from our observations and interviews were disappointing and confusing. We did not find consistent, common b
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  Secrets of Successful Facilitators We spent the past 10 years in some futile field research. Weinterviewed and observed several facilitators and the groups theyfacilitated in an attempt to identify the secrets of effective facilitation.These facilitators were selected on the basis of high ratings by theirpeers and participants for a positive process and productive results.Initial data from our observations and interviews were disappointingand confusing. We did not find consistent, common behaviors amongthese effective facilitators. Further, even the same facilitator appearedto use different behaviors with different groups, even when conductingthe same small-group activity. The same facilitator sometimes useddifferent behaviors with the same group within the same activity atdifferent times. As we collected and classified more data and reflectedon the patterns, we realized the real secret of effective facilitators wasburied within the apparent inconsistency. We re-examined the dataand came up with these five conclusions: ã Effective facilitators are flexible. They modify theirsmall-group activities before and during use. ã Effective facilitators are adaptive. They modify theirsmall-group activities along six critical tensions. ã Effective facilitators are proactive. Before using asmall-group activity, they modify it on the basis of thecharacteristics of the participants and the purpose of theactivity. ã Effective facilitators are responsive. They makemodifications during the small-group activity to keep thedifferent tensions within acceptable ranges. ã Effective facilitators are resilient. They acceptwhatever happens during the small-group activity asvaluable data and smoothly continue with the activity.To capture the flexibility demonstrated by effective facilitators, weneed to understand the tensions on which this flexibility is based. Ouranalysis suggests six critical tensions within any small-group activitythat can be powerful in enhancing or destroying its effectiveness.These tensions are identified in the following behaviorally-anchoredrating scales:  The Six Tensions in Small-Group Activities Structure: How rigidly or flexibly should the small-group activity beimplemented? 1. Tightest : Explain the rules in detail at the beginning andenforce them rigidly. 2. Tight : Announce the rules in the beginning and enforcethem fairly strictly. 3. Neutral : Give an overview of the rules and enforce themflexibly. 4. Loose : Explain the rules only when needed and applythem loosely. 5. Loosest : Make up the rules as you go along and use themarbitrarily. Pace: How rapidly or leisurely should the small-group activity beimplemented? 1. Fastest : Constantly rush the participants and impose tighttime limits. 2. Fast : Keep the activity moving at a fairly fast pace. 3. Neutral : Keep the activity moving at a comfortable pace. 4. Slow : Keep the activity proceeding at a fairly slow pace. 5. Slowest : Constantly slow down the activity. Interaction: How do group members relate to each other? 1. Most cooperative : Maintain a high level of cooperation byfocusing on external threats and obstacles. 2. Cooperative : De-emphasize scores and encourage theparticipants to help each other. 3. Neutral : Maintain a balance between cooperation andcompetition  4. Competitive : Keep scores and encourage participants tooutperform their opponents. 5. Most competitive : Encourage cut-throat competition byconstantly pointing out that winning is the only thing, andannounce a reward to be given to the winner. Focus: Which is more important, a positive procedure or efficientresults? 1. Most process-focussed : Keep the activity interesting,playful, and creative. 2. Process-focussed : Keep the activity enjoyable. 3. Neutral : Maintain a balance between an enjoyableprocedure and efficient results. 4. Results-focussed : De-emphasize the enjoyment of theactivity and focus on getting the job done. 5. Most results-focussed : Constantly emphasize the goals,results, and outcomes of the activity Concern: Are we most concerned about individual or groupneeds? 1. Greatest individual concern : Focus on individual needsand ignore group needs. 2. Individual concern : Focus a little bit more on individualneeds than on group needs. 3. Neutral : Maintain a balance between individual needs andgroup needs. 4. Group concern : Focus a little more on group needs thanindividual needs. 5. Greatest group concern : Focus on group needs andignore individual needs. Control: Where should group members look for direction andvalidation?  1. Most internal : Take an unobtrusive role. Let the groupdecide what is valuable to them. 2. Internal : Take a background role. Avoid givingsuggestions and feedback. 3. Neutral : Maintain a balance between participating andwithdrawing from group activities. 4. External : Take a consultant role. Give suggestions andfeedback. 5. Most external : Take a leadership role. Provideauthoritative advice and evaluation. Maintaining a Balance When a newcomer to group facilitation asks me, Should I keep thesmall-group activity moving at a fast pace or a slow one? I usuallyanswer, Yes. The appropriate location of an activity along the sixtensions depends on several factors, including the number and type of participants and the structure and purpose of the activity.The secret of effective facilitation is to make these tensionstransparent. This is achieved by maintaining a balance between thetwo poles of each tension. Unfortunately, however, balance residesin the perception of the participants rather than in outside reality.Thus, the balance between cooperation and competition may differdrastically between a group from California and a group from NewYork, or between a group of top managers and a group of techniciansfrom the same organization. Tactics To Overcome Tensions The first step in making the tensions transparent is to avoid theextremes (positions 1 and 5 in the rating scale). Beyond that, you mayuse a variety of tactics to increase or decrease the elements in eachtension. Here are a couple of sample tactics for each element: To tighten the structure. . .
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