The Fine Art of Facilitation - Part 2

Last week, I wrote about some of the ways a facilitator increases the odds of making a meeting successful. Today, I want to talk about the role of the facilitator in a different setting – a learning environment.

Let’s start with the same premise as last week: A facilitator removes barriers. In a meeting, a barrier is anything that stands in the way of accomplishing the objectives of the meeting. In a learning environment, the facilitator’s role is to remove any barriers, which might impede insight, application and transformation.
Here’s my counsel for facilitating in a learning environment…
Be clear on the learning outcome. The facilitator is the guide on this journey; if he or she doesn’t know the desired destination, there’s virtually no chance of getting there. What do you want people to learn? What do you want them to do? How do you want them to change as a result of the experience? These are critical questions the facilitator must ask and answer before the session. Lack of clarity on this issue is the ultimate barrier to success.
Say enough for people to want to explore the topic. Another common barrier is lack of interest or desire on part of the learner. The people you are working with may not have sufficient interest to go on the journey you’re trying to take them on. I believe the challenge of every facilitator is to establish relevance and urgency regarding the topic at hand. Why should the audience care and be willing to engage? When you answer this question, you’ve removed another barrier to learning.
Say enough so they know how to explore the topic. Assuming you are successful in stirring interest and relevance, you can then guide the process of discovery. Although there are many ways to do this, one of my favorites is to set up the right conversations to prompt learning. Recently I saw this done very well. I was in session in which the facilitator setup to discovery process by asking people to share their past experiences – both good and bad, regarding the assigned topic. The activity set the stage for real insight.
Let people discover truth on their own whenever possible. In the session I just referenced, after the participants talked about their good and bad experiences, they were ready for question: “So, in light of your past experiences, what could you do differently in the future to improve your effectiveness?” The facilitator could have told the attendees the answer, and sometimes that is appropriate, but in a learning environment, truth discovered is preferred over truth declared.
Help people process their insights and application. Failure to act is the final barrier to be overcome. Don’t leave people hanging. If you identified the learning objectives at the onset, established sufficient relevance regarding the topic and stimulated the right conversations, it should be easy to help people find their own next steps. The best facilitators help people answer the question, “So what?” What will I do with my new insights on this topic? What are my next steps? Until people actually do something, you could argue, they really haven’t learned anything. Great facilitators always find a way to call people to action.
As a leader interested in creating a preferred future, it’s probably in our best interest to learn how to remove barriers. Besides, the line between great facilitation and great leadership is very thin; learning to do either one will enhance our ability to do the other. I’m working on both![GLS_Shield]


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