Facilitation involves a set of skills that don’t always come naturally to us. The facilitator needs to dance in and out of the group’s focus, directing when need be and allowing discussion or silence when the group is engaged with each other or with a problem productively. There are a lot of great resources to help you brush up on facilitation skills, so here we’ll just address some common issues.
One person dominates the conversation
If possible either sit next to the person or directly across from him. Once he starts taking over discussion lean closer to him and thank him for his thoughts. Sometimes a hand on the knee or just moving into his space will help him lean away and stop talking. If you’re sitting across from him or standing, move toward him, gathering the attention toward you and your movement. Thank him and move on. If he’s pontificating and directing all his comments to you, step behind him. That will force him to speak to the entire group, and he’s more likely to notice their signals that it’s time for him to allow another to speak.
Summarizing his statements can be seen as a reason to begin speaking again–just to clarify of course. Avoid providing this opportunity. If a comment was made that you plan to come back to, you can let him know that you will bring the topic up again yourself. You can also ask this person to restate what he heard another person say, giving him a little practice at active listening. Only do this if you’re sure he won’t use the opening as another opportunity to express his own thoughts.
Remind the entire room about the ground rules of giving everyone time to respond and that some of us need a little bit of silence in which to compose our thoughts.
Keeping things moving and including everyone is the facilitator’s job so don’t hesitate to step in where needed. You own the room. Walk around and pull attention to yourself when necessary. Step back, stand still, and let the group focus on each other when appropriate.
One person isn’t sharing
If possible sit next to this person and speak directly to her. Try to give her the sense that she’s speaking only to you and prove that you’re a great listener. Once the person does speak, give her affirmation by asking a follow-up question or referring back to her comment later in the discussion.
Allow for silence. We all tend to get uncomfortable with silence, but some of us need it to gather our thoughts. Someone with a DiSC style of S or C, for example, will appreciate this additional time.
Make sure you’ve done everything you can to make the room seem safe. Thank people for sharing. Model ways of including a reluctant speaker.
Room setup isn’t set up
Sometimes you arrive at the room and discover it’s set up for training or lecture. That’s just not acceptable. You need teams or groups to be able to look each other in the eye. You need a sense of intimacy. Move those chairs and tables around until they’re circular even if it means everyone is crowded into the front of the room. Make it into a group activity.
If you’re working with a very large group you might be forced into more than one table, but avoid that with teams if at all possible. If you must break a team up, be sure to have them move about and change their seats periodically. Remember, cohesive teams are built upon trust and just the act of sitting next to a person aligns you a small bit with that person. You’re sharing something even if it’s just a circle or a table.
Some facilitators like to roam about the room and be outside the group. Others find that they work best when part of the circle. Your preference is based on how you best pick up social signals. If you need to feel them kinesthetically, being part of the circle will work best. If you need to watch for signals, then you’ll want to roam.
The group can also dictate where you place yourself. If they need a lot of direction, you might need to take up a position of more power outside the group. If you’re going to be working with the group for an extended period of time, you might want to signal that you’re aligned with the group and sit with them, remembering that you’re a neutral party and have responsibilities the active team members do not.
The session was hard and draining
Prepare for this possibility. Consider ways of ending on a satisfying and rewarding note. For example, if you’re completing The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team program, you can change the suggested order of the program and report and end with the team’s strengths rather than its weaknesses. Summarizing growth and change that you’ve seen can be a positive way to end a program. Even if you saw nothing more than the fact that everyone stayed in their seats and did not leave the process, that’s something to recognize. Encourage people to take a little time to personally process the day before moving on to new tasks. Give them permission to reward themselves. Consider beginning the next group with a little time to reflect on this one.
The session was shallow and superficial
Prepare for this possibility as well. A newly formed group or a group with unpleasant past history might desire a period of time to interact without conflict. Offer your observation about their behavior and talk a bit about how positive healthy conflict can be and that you’re there to help them use conflict constructively. During facilitated sessions, you will draw people out, mine for conflict, call out aggressive behavior. That’s your job and they can practice having harder conversations with you there to help them out.
Someone goes off topic
Stop him and ask him to bring his comments back to the matter at hand. Or ask a question that directs him back to your topic. When you set ground rules, you probably let people know that keeping discussions focused was part of your role.
Treat the interruption like the normal part of group dynamics that it is. As your group becomes more cohesive you might find others stepping in and refocusing a speaker. It’s a small step of being accountable to each other. You might want to discuss your redirection with the group at the end of the session. It gives you the opportunity to talk about accountability and about how some personality types, like the DiSC i, really enjoy exploring, and their enthusiasm can take them off track for a bit.
Some groups have a “parking lot” for new ideas, additional agenda items, topics for extended discussion, or whatever they don’t want to lose track of but also do not want to devote time to at the moment. You can offer to add something to the “parking lot” and give it to the group leader after your session.
People are not engaging each other
Go back and do some trust building exercises. Ask each person to talk a bit about what encourages them to trust another person. Consider doing an appreciation circle in which each person has to stay silent while each person in the room says something they appreciate about him. Then move on to the next person and do the same for her. It can be very uncomfortable for the group, but also very powerful.
Look for someone shutting down any good discussion as soon as it starts. That behavior needs to be called out. State what you observed. Refer back to ground rules. Begin again. Model how to hold someone accountable for their behavior, while assuming that they will respond positively. (They might not and you can choose to allow them to sulk or sit fuming or whatever they need to do for a bit.) Wait a bit and thank the person for accepting your feedback, even if they didn’t do a great job of accepting it. Explain how important accountability is for any group to function well.
Be sure that the person shutting down engagement is not you. Are you speaking too much? Are you trying to lead the group instead of facilitating its work? Are you giving positive feedback only to a select few members of the group? Are you shying away from allowing conflict to arise in the group?
The group is trying to make you solve all their problems
Share your observation. Refer back to ground rules and your role. You can offer to record their decisions, next steps they identify, amend the ground rules, but it’s not your job to be their expert or trainer. Take a look at your own behavior to see if you’re giving any indication of wanting the trainer or expert role and make any necessary modifications.
A few notes for facilitating The Five Behaviors™
There is a wealth of information and support in the facilitation kit for this product. However, we have a few suggestions of our own.
End with the “Team’s Strengths” to end on a high note. End with “Team’s Challenges” if the team is raring to go and eager to make changes. Either way, before dismissing the team be sure that next steps have been identified—even if those steps don’t include you any longer.
The Appreciation Circle: We recommend you do this exercise with the entire group, not in small groups. If the team works together then having each person participate in every other person’s appreciation will help build trust.
Instead of asking participants to guess the styles of their teammates, introduce more about DiSC with one of the Interaction Guides. If they work with someone they need to sell on their ideas, or influence in some way, you can use the Everything DiSC Sales Interaction Guide with them to determine the preferences of that person. Many participants will find it less threatening to consider using DiSC styles to give someone what they need. Each person can consider how much they will need to flex their style to influence another.
Listen for to-do items or “parking lot” items. Be prepared to catch topics or items that you might want to bring the team back to after they’ve practiced a bit more trust, for example. Be prepared to name what you see going on in the group’s discussion and reflect back to them what you observe.