Five common facilitation mistakes

Five Common Mistakes Facilitators Make that Can Ruin a Meeting and Leave Participants Thinking They Wasted their Time

by Sheella Mierson

5. Agreement about who is the facilitator

The facilitator ensures that the group has clear processes and that everyone’s voice is heard. Other people can help, but being wishy-washy about who is the facilitator usually makes things messy. It’s a paradox. Having one person who is clearly in charge can provide structure and safety for everyone to take part. Sometimes in the name of equality groups will avoid clearly designating who is facilitating the meeting, and hope for the best, and you as the facilitator go along and skip getting clear agreement about your role. Occasionally that can work. If there are agenda items to discuss that are emotional for participants, that strategy can come crashing down around your ears.

4. Advance preparation

I often spend as long or longer preparing for a meeting as actually facilitating it. When I’ve prepared well, the payoff is enormous in terms of a sense of accomplishment and even pleasure at the end of the meeting on the part of all participants. There are multiple aspects to advance preparation. Here are a few:

  • Creating the agenda ahead of time. That includes identifying what even needs to be on the agenda and what is better handled another way.
  • Distributing the agenda ahead of time.
  • Deciding on priorities if time runs short.
  • Anticipating challenges. This can include challenges to you being the facilitator, dealing with people who tend to dominate the meeting, what to do when participants’ emotions run high, and what to do when your emotions run high (yes, it will happen, especially if you are a member of the group rather than an outside facilitator).

3. Clarity about how to handle each agenda item

This is part of advance preparation. If you skip thinking this through, you can flounder a lot in a meeting. For each agenda item, it’s helpful to think about

  • How to introduce it, and who will do that.
  • What process you will use to address it, and what outcome you desire. Do you plan to do picture forming only? Do you want a decision in this meeting? I find that when I include this information in the agenda, participants know what to expect and can be better prepared; they may also be more relaxed.

2. Feedback about the meeting

If you want continuous improvement in how the group functions in meetings, ask for — and make sure you receive — feedback in a closing round at the end of every meeting. Request feedback about the meeting as a whole and about the facilitation specifically. In addition, from time to time ask someone in the group to take notes and give you individual feedback afterwards, to help you grow as a facilitator. Mistakes happen; the trick is to learn from them. Following these suggestions will help you learn, so that you can be your best self and bring out the best in your group.

1. Investment in developing yourself as a facilitator

Excellent facilitation is both a science and an art. It helps bring out the best in a group, so that the group can accomplish its purpose. Good facilitators make it look so easy that we may overlook what went into developing their skills. To expect that you will somehow know what to do in every situation in a meeting without training and practice would be like expecting that you could fly an airplane or play the flute without training and practice. Investing in developing yourself as a facilitator can pay off in every aspect of your life, and of course for the group that is lucky enough to have you as a facilitator.

Here’s a chance to develop yourself as a facilitator: Register for our online Facilitating Sociocracy traiing. It’s a great opportunity to learn how to avoid mistakes as a facilitator and to send your meeting participants off with a joyful sense of having accomplished what they came to do. The class includes lots of practice and feedback.

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