When facilitating a workshop we need to be able to juggle several roles. If you find that you're coming unstuck with this, go back to the definition of facilitation.
Remember, facilitation is partly the process of getting answers. Answers which will help people learn, make change, make decisions and set goals.
To be a good facilitator, you should aim to be good at asking questions and NOT providing answers. Always be aware of how often you're talking and how often you're listening. Facilitators also encourage communication to build understanding and enable people to learn from each other.
The 'golden rules' below reflect both approaches, combined with lessons (and I mean hard-learned lessons) of facilitating a range of groups in a range of sectors over the last 17 or so years.
The golden rules (in summary)
1. Be prepared.
Always go into a workshop with a defined, discussed and documented plan of attack. Be clear on the envelopes required. Make sure that you've met with the workshop client (or sponsor) and have a clearly agreed understanding of the purpose of the workshop, the opportunities to be delivered and the processes you plan to use. Remember to identify the purpose and consequences first, before you even think about developing processes.
Check that the venue, tools and equipment are appropriate
2. Know your role.
Within the workshop your role is to ask a series of planned, constructive questions that tap into the knowledge, skills and experience of the group. Remember to give them the space to think. A simple tool to do this is to ask your question then count (silently) to five. Check if people understand your question. This will give them the time they need to think before answering. Help maintain their focus on the immediate task or issue by using a focus question that's clearly displayed and understood.
3. Involve people.
Design and revise the process to ensure everyone has the opportunity for input. Use the 'Air, Pair and Share' approach.
Air – you air the question.
Pair – ask participants to discuss in pairs.
Share – get participants to discuss this with the rest of the group.
4. Work with the people.
The people there are usually the right people. Set the scene to enable people to be reliably comfortable in working with you and with each other. Find out people's expectations – preferably before the workshop via an online survey, or at the start of the workshop as part of the warm up process.
5. Be flexible.
Your plan may not always work. Even with the most thorough planning, it's rare for a workshop to go completely to plan. Be ready for changes required by participants. Be flexible enough to change the process if required. Regularly check in with the group if they are ready to move on.
Your role is also to keep the process moving. Check that people are answering the questions being asked. If not, find out why. Give them space where needed & encouragement where needed. Be aware of when its just time to move on – if needed you can revisit sticking points later. Document the answers.