The Art of Strengths Coaching

F is for The Art Of Facilitation


Imagine you have been asked to facilitate a team workshop. Your aim will be to help people to channel their energies towards achieving their chosen goal.

So how can you be a good facilitator? Martin Gilbraith is a specialist in this field. Below are excerpts from his website, which you can find via the following link.

What is facilitation?

The word facilitation is derived from the Latin ‘facile’ which, simply translated, means ‘to make easy’. 

A facilitator is therefore someone who makes something easy for others. 

A classic if lengthy definition is that of Roger Schwarz:

“Group facilitation is a process in which a person, whose selection is acceptable to all members of the group, is substantively neutral, and has no decision-making authority, diagnoses and intervenes to help a group improve how it identifies and solves problems and makes decisions, to increase the group’s effectiveness.” – Roger Schwarz

This definition addresses three critical dimensions – the role or stance of the facilitator, what he or she does to make things easy; and to what purpose.

Firstly, the facilitator is neutral to the content and task of the group.

That is not to say that the facilitator cannot or should not have any content expertise or any stake in the outcome of the task, but that the group must be able to have confidence that the facilitator will not allow these to influence the group’s work and decisions.

Secondly, what the facilitator does is to diagnose and intervene in how the group works.

In other words, he or she contributes process rather than content expertise.

The facilitator is not neutral to process, but indeed is granted responsibility for the group’s process, by the group. A leader cannot impose a facilitator on a group without its consent.

Finally, the purpose is to increase the group’s effectiveness – to achieve a better outcome than otherwise, but not any particular outcome.

The outcome remains the responsibility of the group, thus helping to ensure the group’s ownership and commitment to it.

In looking to identify specialist facilitation expertise, consider the six Core Facilitation Competencies articulated by the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) and applied to its Certified Professional Facilitator programme. 


Here are the Six Core Facilitation Competencies which are outlined by Martin.

A competent facilitator will:

Create collaborative client relationships.

Plan appropriate group processes.

Create and sustain a participatory environment.

Guide the group to appropriate and useful outcomes.

Build and maintain professional knowledge.

Model a positive professional attitude.

Looking back on your life, can you think of a time when you have met a good facilitator? They may have acted as a trusted advisor, coach, therapist, friend or whoever.

What did they do right to provide good facilitation? How can you follow these principles – plus maybe add other skills – in your own way?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to explore the following themes.

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Bearing these things in mind, imagine you want to facilitate the team workshop. Here are some steps you may wish to consider.

You can clarify what is
required from the facilitation

Whilst the principles of facilitation remain constant, the application can differ from case to case. So it is vital to check with the key stakeholders – such as the people who are hiring you – what they do and don’t want from the session.

One approach to gathering information is to explore the ‘What, Why, How, Who, When and Where’. So you may ask the stakeholders questions around the following themes.

The What

What is the goal of the session? What are the real results you want to achieve?

What are the specific things you want people to be feeling, thinking, saying and doing after the session? What for you will make it a successful session?

What is the session expected to produce? For example, does it aim to produce a common agreement, a clear vision, a strategy, an increased sense of motivation, a specific action plan or whatever?

What will then happen as a result of the session? What is the longer-term picture of success? Bearing these things in mind, let’s agree on the goals for the session.

The Why

Why do you want to hold the session? What are the reasons for having it at this stage? Is there any specific timetable or other event that provides the reason for holding the session now?

Providing the session is successful, what will be the benefits of then achieving the agreed results? What will be potential pluses – for the team, colleagues, customers and other stakeholders? What may be the potential minuses?

Can you tell me something about the history of the team – and other factors – that have brought you to this point? What are the challenges facing the team? What are the things people have tried before to tackle these challenges? What were the results of these efforts?

Looking back, when have people in the team worked well together and performed brilliantly? What did they do right then? How do you think they can follow these principles – plus maybe add other elements – to perform brilliantly in the future?

Looking at the team at the moment, can you give me some guidance on the following? What does the team do well and how can it do more of these things in the future? What can the team do even better and how?

Who are the key stakeholders that the team must satisfy? What do each of these stakeholders – such as the customers, head office, bankers or other backers – want? How can people in the team do their best to keep these people happy and deliver success?

Are there any other factors that I need to know about?

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The How

Bearing in mind the team’s characteristics – it’s strengths and weaknesses – are there any key principles you want me to follow to ensure we reach the goals? Certainly I will use my expertise, but are there any particular Dos and Don’ts?

As you know, it is good to build on what people have in common. So what do people already agree on? What might be the differences? Have you any views on:

How people can build on what they have in common?

How it may be possible to find solutions to any differences?

What may be the specific topics where, despite attempts to find agreement, you or other key people may simply need to make a decision and then deal with the consequences?

Is there anything else you want to say about how we conduct the session?

The Who

Who are the individual people in the team? What are their specific roles? What are the results they are accountable for delivering in each of their roles?

What are the individual’s strengths? What are their individual learning styles? What are their specific interests – business, sports, the arts or whatever? What are they likely to do – how are they likely to behave – in the session?

Who will eventually make the key decisions regarding the strategies for delivering the team’s goals? Who will then be following up the work that is done during the session?

The When

Much will depend on what emerges from the session. If things go well, however, what will need to be delivered and by when to achieve the required results?

What do you think could be the kind of action plan and timetable? What will be the road map – including the specific milestones – on the road to achieving the goals?

Who may be the people who are in charge of co-ordinating the road map? What will be their brief? What support will they need to deliver the road map successfully?

What can people do to get some early successes? What can they do to encourage each other on the journey? What will people then do to keep reporting their progress towards achieving the goals? What else needs to happen – and when – to ensure the team has a good chance of achieving its goals?

The Where

Where will the session be held? What is the location like? How can we make the environment as positive and encouraging as possible? How can we make sure the physical and emotional things are right?

What will be the timings for the session? When do you want to start and finish? I will organise the session so that people can do the work but also have regular breaks. How can we provide all the materials required for the session?

When will people be informed about the session? What do you want to tell them about the agenda and goals? Will they need to do any homework? What do you want to say about the attitude that will be required for us to achieve success? How can we communicate these things in a positive way so that they look forward to the session?

Are there any other things we can do to ensure the session has a good chance of achieving success?

You may then want to summarise the discussion by saying something like the following to the stakeholders.

Looking at what you want to achieve, here is a potential framework for the day.

“Is there anything you would like to add or change? Bearing this in mind, I will send an email confirming the goals and timetable.

“Let me know if you have any further thoughts or want more information. Otherwise I will see you on the day. Is that okay?”

Preparing for the session

Collecting the information, you will clarify several things in your head.

You will clarify the goals.

You will clarify the ‘controllables’ – how you can build on what you can control and manage what you can’t.

You will clarify your plan for running the session.

Your plans will include welcoming people, confirming the agreed goals, making clear contracts about your role and their roles, employing exercises and helping people to achieve success. Rehearsing the day in your head, you will also anticipate the potential challenges and find solutions.

You may wish to conclude the preparation by clarifying the Dos and Don’ts for running the session. If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme.

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You can do your best to
provide superb facilitation

Before setting out for the day, you may rehearse again the overall plan for running the session. Getting to the venue early, you will make sure everything is in place.

You will welcome people and then invite the team leader – or other key stakeholder – to set the scene for the day. They will hand-over to you to run the session.

Steps To Take During The Session

You will, of course, run the session in your own way. Here is an introduction to some of the steps you may want to take when helping people to achieve their goals. It may be useful:

To confirm the goals for the session.

People need to know what the session will and won’t cover. They also need to know what it is and isn’t about.

To make clear contracts about everybody’s roles.

Explain your own and the participants’ roles and responsibilities in working towards achieving the goals.

To clarify the rules for the session.

You may want to outline the guidelines for the session. For example, for one person to speak at a time; to respect each person’s views; to seek to understand what the person is saying before responding; to build on areas of agreement; to solve any conflicts by asking: “How can we, as far as possible, get a win-win?”

To be a good model as a facilitator by demonstrating these skills in your own behaviour.

Good facilitators are often calm, clear and create an environment in which people can achieve concrete results. You own behaviour can set the tone for the group. So it can be useful to try to act as a good model.

To focus on the first topic to explore.

Introduce the first topic to explore. People need context so, if appropriate, show how tackling this topic will help towards achieving the overall goals.

To facilitate discussions and exercises that enable people to use their energies to reach the goals.

If appropriate, you can use approaches such as 3C model for creative problem solving. This invites people to focus on clarity, creativity and concrete results.

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To show respect for people’s strengths, styles and contributions.

As the facilitator, your role is to enable people to channel their talents to achieve the goal.

Certainly it is okay to provide stimulating input at certain points, such as summaries, models and tools. But your main role is to facilitate their efforts and help them to achieve ongoing success.

You may also be working with the team in other roles – such as a mentor – but in this situation you are acting as a facilitator. If you want to step out of that role in the session, position this by saying something like:

“I am now going to step out of my role as a facilitator for a moment and take the role of ____ then I will go back into the role.”

To encourage people to build on their areas of agreement.

Good teams focus on agreement, alignment and achievement. So you may occasionally say things like:

“Let’s focus on what we have agreed on so far. As far as I understand, the things we have agreed on are: 1) … 2) … 3) …”

To, when appropriate, conclude work on the first topic and move on to the next topic.

You may want to say something like:

“Looking ahead, here are the other topics you want to explore. Bearing these in mind, which one do you want to tackle next?”

To keep connecting with the key stakeholders.

Keep in touch with them. Ensure they are happy with how things are going and, where necessary, make alterations to ensure the session achieves its goals.

To, within your role as facilitator, do whatever is necessary to guide the team to success.

Keep asking yourself:

“What are the real results to achieve? How can I do my best to help people to achieve that picture of success?”

To conclude the session by handing over to the key stakeholders to outline the next steps.

You can, when appropriate, invite the key stakeholders: a) To sum up what has been agreed; b) To explain the next steps in the process; c) To thank people for their contributions.

Good facilitators often balance three skills to keep the process on track during the session. They aim:

To focus on the goal – the picture of success.

To be fully present, listen carefully to what people are saying and build on their contributions.

To be able to ‘helicopter’ above the group, see patterns and ensure the process is on track towards reaching the goal.

You can, if appropriate,
follow up the facilitation

The session will probably result in some kind of outcome. This could be an agreed vision, strategic action plan or whatever.

As part of the facilitation service you can offer to summarise the session’s output. Creating something tangible after the session – and making sure it is presented in a professional way – reminds people of what they have achieved. It can also encourage people to take the next steps towards producing positive results.

If appropriate, there may be other ways to follow up the session. Depending on your skill set, these may include opportunities:

To facilitate further sessions with the team.

To have individual mentoring sessions with the team members.

To provide ongoing support on projects that result from the facilitation or other sessions.

Great facilitators enable people to channel their energies towards achieving their picture of success. You will follow this path in your own way to help people to reach their goals.

If you wish, try tackling the final exercise on this theme. This invites you to describe how you can follow up the facilitation session. As mentioned earlier, you can also find more information and practical tools at Martin Gilbraith’s website.

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