How to facilitate with a team

Facilitation is often a lonely job. For many facilitators, ‘running a workshop’ means more than being the sole person at the front of the room during the workshop. It also involves managing all the preparation and the wrap up after the participants have left.

If you have the opportunity and the means, I strongly encourage you to work with a facilitation team. Here are two reasons you want to do this.

The Facilitation Team Reduces Friction

Friction is anything that impedes a participant doing their work. It can be created by the participant’s environment (such as distracting noises, or a lack of the right tools) or within a participant (e.g. through hunger, boredom, or confusion)

The first focus of the facilitation team is to anticipate, then remove, sources of friction between the participants and the work.

A good facilitation team will think through everything related to the participant experience, search for any points of friction and remove them. For example:

  • How will participants know where to be at any moment of the workshop?
  • How will participants know what they need to do at any moment of the workshop?
  • What tools will participants have to do their work?
  • What are participants seeing and hearing?
  • How will participants’ work physically move from one location to another?
  • When and where will participants eat?

…and many more.

Removing sources of friction allows participants to focus all their energy on the work.

Create psychological safety

Frequent readers may have noticed that a theme in these articles is the importance of psychological safety. Psychological safety is crucial for collaborative work when the stakes are high, or the issues are complex. Without it, a group is far less likely to find (and then overcome) the root causes of their challenges.

Management scholar Amy Edmondson defines psychological safety as:

The belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated when you make a mistake, ask questions, share ideas or concerns

Safety is especially important when a group is working together on a complicated challenge. One that is emotionally, or politically fraught – or both.

There are many techniques for creating psychological safety, and they all share the same root – having empathy for the participants and their challenge. When a facilitation team has empathy, they will find ways to create psychological safety for the participant group.

Regarding specific ways, it’s a bit like the question ‘how long is a piece of string?’ What it takes to creates psychological safety will vary depending on the participant group and their challenge.

That said, there are some questions I’ve seen that help a facilitation team understand what they can do to create psychological safety for a participant group. Things like:

  • How do we reinforce the message that this participant group can solve this problem?
  • How will we encourage participants to play with the problem?
  • How might we foster creativity and trying new things?
  • How can we remove existing psychological constraints such as organisational hierarchy and politics?

Closing thoughts

A facilitation team is a gift and will often act as a catalyst for the group’s work. A good facilitation team will often go unnoticed by all but the most astute participants. However, their impact will be visible as psychological safety develops, the group dynamic shifts, and the outcomes of the workshop are exponentially improved.

Collaboration and Play

Collaboration and Play

Collaboration Tools: The Whiteboard