Most of us have participated in group work in one way or another. Depending on the project or meeting agenda, it involves several people coming together to discuss, collaborate, and reach a common goal. But sometimes it can be difficult to get everyone on board and agree on something, or even worse, when no one seems to know how to fill the awkward silence.
What if you’ve been appointed as the Leader?
Good leaders are often good facilitators. As a facilitator your aim is to guide the team to meet the objective by making the discussion process as easy and as effective as possible. You are there to ensure that there is healthy communication between the members by clearly establishing the end goal of your work – be it for a school project, a group work assignment or another team setting.
These are some things you should keep in mind as the facilitator:
Keep the discussion going.
You may find that the team occasionally falls into long and seemingly awkward silences. Maybe there are some team members who have ideas but are too shy to voice out, afraid of rejection from others. Or perhaps the members just can’t seem to get anywhere closer to a solution, and the group seems stagnant.
It’s essential to remember that one of your roles as the facilitator is to prompt conversation. There are 2 main ways you can go about this:
1. Build an inclusive environment
You can encourage your members to share their ideas, gently nudging those who seem to struggle to contribute their thoughts. Many times people are too conscious of others’ opinions or feel that their contribution is not of great importance or usefulness. This is where you reassure them that everyone’s views are equally valued and helpful for the team. By doing this, you are actively building an inclusive environment in which every member is given an opportunity to share and feel safe doing so.
You can even kick start the process by giving possible suggestions and asking for their perspectives. This may motivate your team to join in and play an active part in the discussion. Then as the members make suggestion, allow the discussion to evolve. At the end of the day, even if the problem was not solved, everyone would have gained new insight from each other and leave with fresh perspectives.
2. Build cooperation through empathy
Motivate members to consider other people’s suggestions with an open mind. This will also play a part in facilitating more candid and easygoing conversation between the members. The best way to nurture this in your team is to show them exactly how to do that, by modelling that behaviour.
Practise using active listening and verbal skills to facilitate the conversation. Ask guiding, open-ended questions to stimulate ideas and allow them to lead the session. One effective way to do this is by using the mirror technique. When your member shares their point, reflect and rephrase their message back to them. This serves to do two things; to clarify with them whether you understood the intended meaning accurately, and to also show that you were paying attention to and processing their opinion.
Be Discerning and Flexible
Once you get the meeting up and going, you may find that sometimes the discussion slips into other topics now and then. While you have the responsibility of making sure the team stays on track, it is crucial for you to discern when it is okay to allow the members to deviate a little.
Doing this would ensure that you don’t interrupt the natural flow of the conversation, where people are still sharing and processing ideas and letting their creativity run. It is key to provide the team some time to brainstorm and think out loud before having to concretely present their ideas. So don’t risk putting a damper on their moods and souring the overall tone of the meeting.
Give space for live feedback and constructive criticism from the rest of the group. By allowing some flexibility for them to critique and utilise their creativity, you further build a sense of confidence amongst the members in their ability to problem-solve and reach a consensus.
If the group extends way beyond the allocated time, slowly and gracefully wrap up the points that have been made by the members. Remind the team of the progress that has been attained thus far and what can be achieved for the next session. This way you can ease the conversation to a halt rather than abruptly cutting off without closure.
Turn conflicting views into creative solutions
Of course, we are all individuals with our own distinct perspectives and opinions. So there is bound to be opposing views and therefore disagreements during group work. In the heat of a debate it can be easy to forget that everyone is working towards a common goal. The important thing is not to steer clear of any potential disagreements, but to make room for it. After all, conflicting viewpoints can promote creative ways of thinking about a problem, therefore allowing potential innovative solutions to emerge! That is what we call a dynamic discussion, and it is your role as the facilitator to remind the group of that.
Once again, is it imperative that the members are made aware of what is expected of the meeting, so that everyone can proceed with a shared understanding and goal in mind. However, if the disagreement is intensifying with no signs of reaching common ground, you would have to employ some conflict management techniques that you can read about in this article.
Take-away points for facilitating a group!
- ‘Leading from behind’ principle: your role is to mediate the process, let members actively drive the content while you support them, don’t try to dominate
- As long as there are varied opinions, there is bound to be potential for conflict. Don’t be afraid and deflect or change topics; welcome differing ideas without taking sides
- Discernment and flexibility are key tools in your skillset; keep members on task while without compromising on their freedom to express creativity
- Ask guiding questions to prompt members to contribute and drive the discussion forward, helpful when the group falls silent or when they seem stuck
- Understanding the group dynamic is crucial to ensure an inclusive environment where everyone has an equal chance to be heard (e.g. some may be more out-spoken, remember to include the shy members too) -> this is why building a strong sense of team identity is important to ensure overall effectiveness!