INIFAC – the International Institute for Facilitation (inifac.org) – in 2003 researched 450 facilitators and clients to develop a real-world gold standard for facilitator competencies: 30 specific behaviors in six overarching categories: Presence, Assessment, Communication, Control, Consistency and Engagement.
Let’s look at the first of these: Presence. “Master Facilitators bring compassion and authority to the room. Through their verbal and non-verbal expression, they exude confidence, energy and self-awareness while also conveying a high level of warmth and caring. They make adjustments in their style to better serve the group.”
You’ve likely experienced skilled facilitators who embody this. You like them. And they are no pushovers. Their presence in the group puts the group at ease and lets participants feel confident that this next 30 minutes or hour (or day) will be enjoyable and productive. Can you say that about all your meetings?
Related to this Presence, there are five sub-competencies:
1. Facilitator projects confidence in own skills and own ability to lead the group.
Because you’ve prepared yourself and your skills and you’ve prepared for the meeting that you’re facilitating, it’s only natural that you’re confident in your leadership.
2. Facilitator demonstrates warmth and caring.
This part you can’t fake … it matters that you actually care about others, and treat each person with respect and warmth. If you can’t do that, then don’t facilitate.
3. Facilitator understands the impact of energy on participants and facilitates in a style appropriate for the audience and the session topic.
We said it before in our earlier discussion on Enthusiasm: If the facilitator is dull, bored, listless…the meeting will suck. The room will have little energy, and the participants will likely get little accomplished. What they do get done won’t be their best work, because they’ll be uininspired. But enthusiasm in voice, tone and body language is contagious and uplifting. It sets an expectation and sets a pace the group will fall into. The facilitator is the “front runner”.
4. Facilitator makes adjustments in own style and language to adjust to the group.
Ok, short story. As I said before, I don’t use “toys” on tables. But, one time an important client had experienced another facilitator who did. They used small Lego construction toys, one per person, as an ice-breaker. My client brought a bunch of these small Lego kits and requested we use them for a 3-Day Rapid Improvement Event we were facilitating. I thought it was a horrible and distracting idea, but the client was insistent that it would work well and help the group bond. I knuckled under. Long story short, it bombed. Only 2 of a dozen people taking 20 minutes to try to assemble a Lego truck or dozer and see who could do it first (yeah, the ones with little kids and who finished first). Now maybe my lack of enthusiasm for the exercise doomed it to fail. “Saboteur, unaware.” So there are limits to adapting to others. But generally the facilitator must be a great listener and adapt to the style and language with which the group seems most comfortable.
5. Facilitator demonstrates awareness of own strengths and weaknesses.
You can’t be a pompous ass and facilitate well. You can’t be rigid and insist on doing it your way. I ask a lot of questions of the group and listen intently for the answers. When I screw up, I throw myself under the bus and fess-up to the group and reboot.
One of my favorite Greg Howell moments was when he “declared a breakdown” on himself as he was facilitating at the front of the room! Humility is endearing. And honest.