The habits of an effective facilitator
Susan M Nurre

Creativity and innovation will be key business differences in the future -- creativity and innovation in the way we think and recommend solutions to our customers as well as our ability to help our customers be innovative. Although "outside the box" is an overused term, it could mean going outside current organizational structures, outside current processes, or outside a "we’ve always done it this way" mentality.

Facilitated workshops are becoming an increasingly important part of the way America works. Through these workshops, we can harness the creative powers of a group of people and, if we go about it in the right way, unleash their collective creativity toward innovative work solutions.

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen R. Covey explains the habits that he believes are key to creating effective people both in their professional and personal lives. "Effective" is defined as getting goals accomplished in an atmosphere where people do their job on their own without coaxing or coercion.

These same seven habits can be loosely associated to the habits required of an effective facilitator in conducting a workshop. To be effective, the facilitator must accomplish the workshop goal of producing desired deliverables by creating an atmosphere where people want to work together toward that goal.

Habit #1: Be Proactive. Take responsibility. To the facilitator, being proactive means taking responsibility for planning and conducting the workshop. Determine the amount of pre-work, including interviewing, reading and review, that is necessary and do it. Experiment. Plan the agenda with some unusual activities to spur creativity.

Flexibility is important. Know your facilitation techniques and have backup plans. Many agenda steps (or entire agendas) have been scrapped because the group wasn’t responding and the goals of the workshop not being met. Be aware that things can go wrong and be prepared to move through and beyond those things while keeping the central purpose of the workshop in mind.

Habit #2: Begin With The End In Mind. Decide on a workshop mission statement. This habit is known as the "leadership habit" because it deals with direction-setting.

Each workshop should have a mission statement in addition to the project mission. Although it may not be accomplish specific goals in a determined amount of time with a specific group of people. The facilitator’s mission is to use the best techniques and skills to help drive the participants toward the accomplishment of their goals.

Introduce the workshop’s mission statement (objectives) at the beginning and use it throughout the session to keep the group on track. Discuss the objectives, if necessary, to ensure the group’s buy-in and commitment.

Habit # 3: Put First Things First. Manage yourself and your time. Dr. Covey explains the time management dimensions of importance and urgency as shown below. These dimensions are applicable to facilitated workshops. You can use these quadrants to focus your time in preparing for the workshop, in handling issues that come up during the workshop and in managing and respecting your participants’ time.

Quadrant 2
Not Urgent

Quadrant 1

Quadrant 4
Not Urgent
Not Important

Quadrant 3
Not Important

Quadrant 1 is considered the problem or crisis quadrant. Some examples might include issues in a workshop that are critical to the completion of the workshop or could potentially delay the project.

You should focus MOST of your attention on Quadrant 2. Items in this category that are done well and consistently (as they are not urgent) will not become Quadrant 1 problems. An example of this type of activity might be project documentation or status reporting.

Quadrants 3 and 4 are considered time wasters. Quadrant 3 is urgent to others and not to your project team and Quadrant 4 contains items that are not urgent or important to anyone.

The facilitator manages time by helping the group keep issues in the proper perspective -- Quadrant 1 issues may need to be resolved right away or elevated to the appropriate level while Quadrant 2 (and even 3 and 4) issues can be posted on a flipchart. At the end of the workshop, these issues can be prioritized.

Habit #4: Think Win/Win. Seek solutions so everyone wins.
Habit #5: Seek First to Understand. Listen until you understand.
Habit #6: Synergize. Cooperate creatively.
Habits 4, 5, and 6 go together in the context of a workshop. By using these habits, the effective facilitator helps the group focus on win/win and create new and better solutions.

Habit 4 can be summed up by Dr. Covey’s question, "why don’t we agree to communicate until we find a solution we both (all) agree on?" Win/win requires a balance between courage and consideration as well as self-respect and respect for others. Instead of seeking compromise which is often the easiest way out, we want to create new and innovative solutions.

To achieve win/win, you must practice Habit #5 which is active or empathic listening. Empathic listening goes beyond the words used -- you, as the facilitator, must also pay attention to how they’re being said (verbal cues), the speaker’s body language (nonverbal cues) and frame of reference. Asking for clarification, repeating back what was said, asking others to restate what they heard are all ways for the facilitator to help the speaker and the rest of the group interact. All of us have the need to be understood, and if participants feel you are truly listening and understanding, they relax and tend to be more open and honest. This habit, as with the others, is powerful and can impact all areas of your life.

Once communication and listening are underway, Habit #6 encourages the use of the group’s creative capacity. When you help the group communicate with respect and creativity, they learn, gain insight and can produce better solutions together than any one of them could create on his/her own. These innovative ideas could result in better ways to look at the business, the process, or the data.

The last habit is more personal. Habit #7 is Renewal, the self-maintenance habit. This habit encourages you to take time to do the things required to preserve and enhance your greatest asset -- yourself! Facilitation is demanding because you’re on your feet most of the day, acutely aware of the dynamics of the group at all times and often work through breaks preparing for the next step. Organizing your life along the four dimensions of continual daily self-renewal (physical, mental, spiritual and social/emotional) helps you maintain the first six habits and be an effective facilitator.

Dr. Covey encourages readers of his book to learn the habits, teach them to others and live them on a daily basis. As we focus on the habits required to be more effective as facilitators and consultants and to stimulate creativity and innovation in ourselves and others, we also become more effective in meeting our customers’ needs today and into the future.

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