Facilitating large groups

I’ve always enjoyed working with groups. From a young age it’s just something I’ve enjoyed doing. Playing in the school drama, rallying a group of people to support a team, speaking in front of others, it’s something I’ve either actively sought, or actively sought. Narcissistic much?

Through all of that, I’ve enjoyed figuring out how to work with a group of people and get the best out of them. Not everyone can do it. Well that’s not true. Some people can do it. They get bothered with things like how they come across and what happens if their mouth goes dry and how do they stop shaking because of the focus of attention. Me? I don’t get that. Like most others who work well with groups, I like it when I’ve got the group being excellent.

You see the focus is rarely about me as a facilitator. It’s always about the group. They’re the ones with the agenda. I just need to help uncover it.

But how to do it? Well here’s a way of helping to make it happen.

1) Have clear objectives

It sounds like a given, but you have to absolutely know what you are there to achieve as the facilitator. Why is the group together? What are they expecting to achieve? What have they done before as a group? Are there organisational objectives? Are there organisational imperatives? What impact are external factors having?

These are all things you need to know as the facilitator. Even if you know the organisation well, it’s worth checking what you know. Complacency is an awful thing to fall on your arse with.

If possible try getting all anthropological in your research and design.

2) Have a clear plan

The time you have with the group is precious. They’ve given up their time to get to a goal. You have to get them there. How you use that time is critical to success. The plan you produce must be carefully considered. It has to be checked with stakeholders.

3) Practise your delivery

See 2)

You have to know in your head what you’re doing and where you’re going. If possible get all feedback on this thing. From them there stakeholder types. Or trusted others.

4) Give clear direction

When you’re with them they need to know clearly what they’re being asked to do. It’s an intriguing thing about groups. When they have clear direction, they’ll get right stuck in. And if they don’t, they amble and meander, and eventually do their own thing. So best to know what you’re expecting them to do.

5) Be prepared to change the plan

I don’t think there’s ever been a session I’ve conducted where the plan for delivery went according to plan. At some point something needed to be changed on the hoof, and it needed to be handled quickly. You can plan for these things to some extent. Just be mindful that it won’t always be according to plan.

6) Signpost exactly where you are and where you are going

People are talking. They’re getting involved. Or they’re bored and they need reminding. At each and every point let people know where they are in terms of the agenda. Are they on track? Have they gone had to change plan? What’s been discussed? How are you reflecting back what you know?

7) Create an inclusive environment

There’s a myth in L&D circles that everyone has to take part. I’ve never subscribed to that. I believe more in allowing the opportunity for discussion to take place. If people partake then all the better. If they don’t, create opportunities for more people to take part. Everyone can participate, but only if you’ve given them permission to do so through the activities you’ve designed.

8) Know how you’re ending the session

I’ve seen it happen. Thanks everyone, hope you’ve had a great time and had a particularly useful session, and that it’s been fun. Le. Sigh.

There does need to be some way of wrapping up the session. Be it a shared learning, action plan, flipcharts of activity, there has to be something. Some concrete thing which captures what the group agree, and how they will move forward. If it’s not there then it just becomes a day of fun. Nowt wrong with that, but it quickly loses its purpose.

9) Your job is done for now

Bat back any responsibility for making things happen after the event. As the facilitator, it was your job to get the group to a certain place. Once they’ve got there, it’s up to them if they make it happen. If they choose not to, that’s up to them. Annoying for you, but you can’t control that. You just helped give them a way to talk to one another, and a way to create something to work on for the future. For now, your job is done.

Like I said, this isn’t for everyone. It’s why my role exists, because I can do this, and I bloody enjoy it. It motivates me and I find it very satisfying. There’s social good in activity like this, there’s diversity in what I do and those I am with, there’s engagement with a group of smart people which is vital, and I’m mixed up in all of that.

Are you interested in applying your creativity in an interesting way? I’m asking people to get involved in Learning Stories to see if they can produce a story about learning which inspires someone to act. The deadline for submission is March 21st 2013. Fancy a challenge?

Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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