Do you think of yourself as a facilitator? Chances are that you do if you are a trainer, or run development activities. If you are a leader, on the other hand, you may not realise just how much of a facilitator you are. In practice, a leader is a facilitator every time he or she leads a meeting, presents to a group of people or engages others in decision making or problem solving.

We find there is a strong link between leadership styles and facilitation styles.

Leaders who seek collaboration – through sharing a strong vision or adopting a coaching approach, for instance – tend to transfer that style to the way they run their meetings and engage others. They use open questions and genuinely seek to understand where everyone in the room is coming from.

Leaders who tend to towards more autocratic approaches are also, often, more controlling in meetings and presentations. They spend a lot more time telling everyone what they think, and what they want done, than they do listening to and appreciating the views of others.

The benefit of recognising this link is that by flipping it around it can be used in leadership development. Building a leader’s facilitation skills promotes a greater understanding of self, as well as a greater understanding of how others react and respond in different situations. This, in turn, increases the leader’s emotional health over time.

A great thing about improving facilitation skills is that it can often be quite easy to make big steps. The facilitated environment is, by its nature, a ‘contained’ space in comparison to a whole organisation.

Most people tend to facilitate groups in a particular way – usually the only way they know how. They have one mode and they stick to it. Some like to listen, but never contribute themselves. Some allow the loud contributors to dominate. Some like a tight structure, always. And of course some like to talk themselves, more interested in making sure their own opinion is heard, rather than in genuinely listening to what others might have to add.

When we show people that there are other approaches to facilitation, and that different approaches can be used in different situations, there is often an ‘Aha’ moment.

There are a few simple techniques we encourage leaders, or anyone facilitating for that matter, to try. They include:

  • Monitoring their ‘air time’: no one, and particularly the person running the meeting, need speak for more than about 40% of the time. This is a good way for facilitators to force themselves to listen.
  • ‘Just wait’: an extension of the previous point whereby the facilitator accepts silence. Rather than feeling the need to fill the silence with a quick resolution and then move on, wait until someone else speaks up. Great ideas can come from these moments.
  • Asking open questions: rather than yes/no questions, use questions that enable the person or group to explore issues, including how one issue relates to another.
  • Avoiding ‘why?’: directing ‘why?’ at an individual has undertones of blame and can send them below the line and into self-justification.
  • Use a ’round’: in order to hear everyone’s point of view, move around the table or room one person at a time. Used sparingly, this can encourage quieter people to speak up, allow everyone to appreciate each person’ s thoughts and ideas and also limit those who tend to “hold” the floor.

The ultimate aim of an effective facilitator is to enable the group and tap into the knowledge and skills of everyone in the room. Which, of course, is the ultimate aim of an effective leader too. The point here is that improving facilitation can be a good way improving leadership in a more manageable way.

If you are looking to transform your own facilitation skills, we have developed Achieving Results Through Others – Leading Through Facilitating which we run publicly and in-house. The program will build and strengthen your capability to become a great facilitative leader. We are currently registering interest for our next public programme in 2015. Please contact us if you are interested in being on the list when we announce the dates.