Group Facilitation – Why It Matters

August 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’ve just returned from a local political group meeting (my first), and am both elated and frustrated.

Elated – because of the 25 people there, each of them had insightful, passionate and true things to say. There was debate and discussion, and it’s always wonderful to find that other people share your own questions about society, politics and theories of change. Open and honest opinions were shared and there was active listening from most people in the room.

Frustrated – because the session was facilitated/led very poorly. No real introductions, badly set up room, dominating opinions from the facilitator, no perimeters set on the discussion, and no agreed decision-making model. But what frustrated me more than anything was when, at the end of the meeting, I raised these issues with those who had led the meeting, they answered,

“Facilitation and running the meetings? That’s the easy part!

Good facilitation, good leadership, good organising is incredibly difficult. Finding a process that empowers and doesn’t inhibit action, bringing forward voices with less confidence and tempering dominant ones, and – ultimately – achieving set goals is not at all easy.

There are so many tools and processes that we can use, starting with the very simple ones –

  • Setting up chairs in a circle (moving furniture if necessary), and reforming the circle when new people enter
  • A short introduction game for people to learn who else is in the room, and who they’re sitting next to
  • Establishing what the goal of the meeting is and how decisions will be made
  • Encouraging discussion, and not using the power of the facilitator role to dominate
  • Closing with shared outcomes and actions that individuals commit to
  • Setting the next meeting and what will have been achieved by then

Action is the oxygen of organisation – and each session that is facilitated badly is an enormous opportunity missed. People came to events like this hoping to find a group with shared ideas and an opportunity to put them into practice, it’s up to us to make that so.

Margaret Wheatley has a wonderful short series of 10 Principles for Building Community. I am going to strive to bring these into the heart of my future organising. I hope they inspire and encourage you too! Here is the first video.

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