We’ve all been part of a round table or group where nothing is accomplished. I call it chasing rabbits or herding cats. You know what I mean. When discussion goes off in 20 different directions and none of them lead back to the topic at hand. It can be frustrating for everyone involved. No one likes to feel like their time is wasted.
But what if it’s you leading the group? A facilitators role is to keep the group focused without killing the conversation or injecting to much of your own opinion in the process.
Your number one job is keep the discussion focused on the topic. That sounds easy, but how do you do that?
Learn to paraphrase what you hear. That gives the participant a chance to make sure everyone understood what they said and meant. A concise summary makes it easier to record on a flip chart or type on a screen. Use the phrase, “so what you are saying is…….” to make sure everyone has clear understanding.
Give positive feedback. Don’t criticize an idea or statement. Thank participants for their thoughts. Encouraging words makes people feel comfortable sharing. Comfort increase participation.
Ask for clarification if you aren’t sure where a participant is going with a comment. Simple phrases like please explain, describe what you mean, or can you give me an example, can help add clarity.
Consolidate like items. Help the group pull together like ideas so they can see the relationship.
Stay on task and on time. Remind the group of the topic at hand if they drift off. If you are using timed segments, stick to them. Use a parking lot. I have a sheet of paper taped to the wall where unrelated topics that come up are written down. That shows you value that question or input and then follow up at the appropriate time. This allows the group to refocus on the topic at hand without feeling a topic has been brushed aside.
Don’t let one person dominate the discussion. We all know them or perhaps we are them. Some people are more comfortable than others sharing ideas. Some can be overbearing and not allow others to get a word in. It’s your job as a facilitator to make sure everyone has a voice. Remind the group that everyone is invited to speak. You can even say, “let’s hear from some folks who haven’t had a chance to speak yet.” You can even go around the table and ask everyone for an idea or opinion if you feel not everyone is getting the chance to speak up.
Make sure you record the results. Post comments and key points where people have access to them. Allow them to take pictures of whiteboard or notes with their phones. Everyone likes to have access to their ideas and it’s a good double check to make sure the information is getting passed along accurately.
Allow for discussion. As a facilitator, you don’t have to speak after each comment. Allow the group to interact naturally. The participants can respond to each other. Just remind them at the beginning that all ideas or to be treated respectfully.
Group sessions are a great way to get input and ideas and can be a resource for your company if you facilitate correctly and make sure everyone feels heard and involved.