improve facilitation skills agile

Team Facilitation Skills

Teams don’t develop synergy overnight. Building synergy takes time and effective facilitation.

Team Facilitation starts with developing the right mindset and meeting preparation process. It’s informed by the things you believe as a facilitator, such as believing the group has the collective wisdom to solve the challenge at hand. Being aware of your bias means understanding how you can intentionally or unintentionally influence the group process.  

No matter the kind of meeting you walk into, your job is to help the group get over the hurdles of face-to-face communication. Here are seven tips to keep in mind the next time you step up to facilitate a team.

1. Honor the Wisdom of the Group

Good Facilitators believe their group has the wisdom and knowledge to design successful solutions and that people will support what they help to create.

Great Facilitators, however, know how to pull this wisdom and knowledge out of their team members, so that these solutions can become a reality.

As a Facilitator, it’s not up to you to go in and fix problems. Your job is to ensure that the entire group becomes engaged early in the process and then stays engaged, managing conflicts before they impede the group’s progress. Design the format of your meetings to promote discussion and participation from everyone, beginning on day one.

2. Encourage Trust in the Capacity and Experience of Others

When a team of experts gathers in a room together, our natural tendency is to make sure our knowledge is known and our opinion is heard – sometimes at the cost of not listening to others. Your role as a Facilitator is to create an environment that encourages team members to not only talk, but to listen to ideas and be open to adapting them based on the experience of the entire group. While you might honor the wisdom of the group, don’t assume that your team holds this same belief – help them move in that direction!

3. Maintain Neutrality

As a Facilitator, your role is to own the process, while remaining neutral regarding the content. Don’t try to influence the outcome of the team by providing your opinion, voting on a decision or judging a statement. Simply maintain an objective perspective and comment neutrally without labeling people or offering criticism or critique.

If your gut is telling you that the group may be making a mistake, then turn it back to them by asking the team what they think. When you interject your opinion or influence the discussion’s outcome, the group loses connection with the solution and may view the end-product as yours, not theirs.

For an Agile Team Facilitator, this is often one of the hardest skills to control, especially when the facilitator is also a peer member of the expert team. If there is content or opinion that you need to provide to the team, then clearly tell them that you’re stepping out of the role of Facilitator and into that of Participant. Move away from the front of the room, deliver your message, and then step back into the role of Facilitator. When you moderate the meeting in this manner, the team won’t become confused about your role or purpose.

4. Practice Self-assessment and Self-Awareness

Having self-awareness about your strengths and weaknesses as a Facilitator is an important skill that you can master. Teams can be your best “mirrors,” as they’re often more than willing to give you feedback – both good and bad. Don’t take this feedback personally; instead, use it to improve your approach to facilitation.

In addition, there are many self-assessment tools available to you, such as Kantor Behavioral Profile, Myers Briggs and DiSC, which can provide invaluable feedback regarding your preferences and approaches to problem-solving. Before you step in front of a group, make sure that you understand yourself, first and foremost, and then use this knowledge to create a dynamic that maximizes your effectiveness as Facilitator.

Remember, facilitation is not a static skill. Great Facilitators are continuously learning and adapting methods to improve success.

5. Maintain an Objective, Non-Defensive, Non-Judgmental Stance

Successful facilitation requires active listening to what your team has to say in order to help you steer the process toward success. Losing objectivity during a meeting, or becoming defensive or judgmental during a discussion, can hinder your ability to “hear” what your team is saying. Remember, this is not about you – it’s about what the group needs to move forward toward a solution. Be aware of your personal “hot buttons” and design ways to manage them.

6. Act with Integrity

This isn’t a situation in which you can fake it until you make it. Be clear with the group about your role as Facilitator and establish clear boundaries early on. If you think something is too challenging for the group, find a way to say so with integrity. However, if you see a potential conflict of interest, or you’re going into a meeting where you have clear opinions about the target topic, then ask another Facilitator to facilitate so you can participate in the discussion.

7. Trust the Process

Do your homework in preparation for the meeting. Understand the desired objectives for the meeting and design your facilitation process to accomplish these objectives. Once you’re in the meeting, trust in the process! A group can easily get distracted by details, which can feel like a waste of time or like things are taking too long. Keep your eye on the goal and trust the process as it unfolds.

At their core, Agile practices are about effective collaboration and communication (that is, individuals and interactions). Effective facilitation is one of the most important skills that an Agile Coach or Scrum Master can bring to the leadership of an Agile Team.

How, specifically, are you helping your team to achieve its desired goals? What’s something that you’re already doing well that you can amplify? How might you be getting in the team’s way?  

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3 years ago

I like that you said to know when to step in and out of a situation. That skill can really provide some clarity to the group. Too many voices talking at once and bog down the team as a whole.