When a group of people get together to accomplish something – whether a short term task or continuous activity – there are three factors for them to deal with:
Content: the subject matter of their work
Process: the approaches to apply to the content in order to produce a result
People: the interpersonal relationships across the group.
All three of these work well in a healthy and effective team.
As external facilitator, I concern myself primarily with process and people, allowing the team to be the experts on their content. The balance of my role depends on the needs of the team. Typically I introduce and manage the process, giving the team the space to concentrate on applying it to their content. I observe the team dynamics and step in to ensure that everybody is given space to contribute, and that they do indeed work together to produce a team result.
There are occasions where teams require more than one facilitator. I work with internal facilitators and with expert facilitators whose style complements mine. Co-facilitation works for example:
- where one of the facilitators brings subject (content) expertise to the team, so he/she can participate without dominating the team
- to give the team access to two sets of knowledge and experience
- where the size of the team necessitates it
- where sensitivities around the subject matter or the desired outcome require it
- to introduce variety, especially where the team will be working intensively over a longer time
- to develop facilitation skills and experience in internal facilitators.
With a new leader or a new team, where the team leader needs to establish their position, it may be most appropriate for them to take charge from the start. In this situation, I take a back seat during the team meetings, and work through the leader.
- Before the team meet I coach the leader, rehearsing the critical elements with them.
- At the meeting I observe, except if called on by the leader to clarify a point of process.
- After the meeting I debrief the leader and work with them to clarify next steps.
In this role I help the team to get their act together quickly, and step away as soon as the team leader is ready without leaving ripples.