Six Big Mistakes Facilitators Make

by New Church Starts

by Christie Latona, Path 1 Mentor Coach and Consultant; facilitator, and entrepreneur

While we can’t always learn from the mistakes of others, I offer these in a way that hopefully you can relate to. Even if you have never facilitated a group, chances are you have been subjected to one or more of these mistakes. If you have facilitated a group before, identify which of these is a growing edge for you.

1. Assuming familiarity with the group. Most groups are not like good friends. You can’t just pick up where you left off. Unless you meet monthly with a group that doesn’t have any membership changes, you will need to spend some time warming up the room and giving people a reason to trust you to facilitate their conversation. Anytime I’ve assumed we can just get down to the business at hand, I’ve learned that easing into the conversation yields better and faster results. Until people are warmed-up, they won’t share the full story of what is going on. Until people trust you, they won’t approach the group time from a collaborative, win-win perspective. Facilitating a group where people have staked out their territory is not nearly as fun and productive as facilitating a group where people understand they share a territory.

2. Paying too much attention to the technical aspects of facilitation. Have you ever left a meeting thinking that it was very well run, but also thinking “so what?” or “now what?” If so, the facilitator made this mistake. There are many excellent facilitation techniques out there but the end result is only as good as it fits between the technique and the objective and the relationship space created for those things to be explored. Sometimes a facilitator’s use of techniques gets in the way of people actually communicating with one another. Remember, facilitation is about making something easier. We must use the tools at hand with this and the objective in mind.

3. Approaching the facilitation as a fill-in-the-blank exercise.  I was recently in a group being lead by a very good facilitator. She laid out the territory and was asking the group to summarize what we had agreed to in previous meetings for each category. However, at one point I got the feeling that she was waiting for a specific answer to her question. We hit a category and instead of reflecting back what she was hearing the group say, she kept asking more and more specific questions until I finally said, “Based on what you are hearing, how would you answer that question?” I think sometimes facilitators are viewed as manipulators because of this type of practice. It is important that we know when to check what we think we are hearing versus “allowing” the group to discover it themselves. Not only does that save time, it also builds trust.

4. Not knowing the primary strategic purpose of the group you are facilitating. There are core strategic purposes for convening a group of people: Action Planning, Basic Meeting Facilitation, Information Transfer (Training/Workshop), Conflict Resolution, Environmental Analysis, Model Building, Organizational Development, Problem Solving, Process Development, Process Improvement, Product Development, Project Management, Strategic Planning, System Design, and Team/Community Building. The clearer you are about the core strategic purpose of a team in the life of the organization, the better the facilitation. In fact, often times I find myself having to help the leader(s) of the group clarify that very thing so we can ensure that people and the scope of the project is correct.  A new church start stakeholder group really is about project management (a business term that translates into mutual accountability). As a side note, pastors of new faith communities have to be excellent at leading some and identifying leaders for all of these aspects. In working with some pastors who struggle, I see them getting stuck in one or two aspects rather than the full range which is required for a healthy start-up.

5. Over-functioning as an intervention specialist. Anyone who is facilitating new church start stakeholder meetings needs to be comfortable using basic facilitation tools like: Openings, Analysis, Combining Ideas, Evaluation of Work, Idea Generating, Reflection/Dialogue, Selection/Prioritizing, and Sharing Information, Assignments, and Closings.  When these tools are used for the good of the strategic role the group is designed to achieve, great things happen. However, sometimes stuff happens and an intervention of some sort is needed to bring about a course correction. Facilitators need to be prepared to intervene when groups exhibit or come across any one of the following: Avoidance of Making Decisions, Conflicts, Lack of Creativity, Deciding Too Quickly, Difficult People, Difficult Situations, Directing Traffic, Disagreements, Little Group Participation, Process Interventions, Running in a Rut, or Non-discussable Topics. At this point some of you may be thinking: that sounds like my team! However, if you as a facilitator find yourself spending most of your time running an intervention and the group was NOT formed as a problem-solving or conflict resolution body, you need to determine the underlying cause for these issues. A stakeholder’s group is designed to serve the role of project management in a way that builds a shared understanding, excitement, and investment in the plant. If you find yourself intervening a lot, it may indicate that the one or more of the stakeholders (e.g., a partner church that really doesn’t agree with the model of plant) or the group doesn’t understand their role.

Do any of these big mistakes resonate with you? What big mistakes would you add? If you think learning facilitation skills might be important in your context or if you are considering becoming a Path 1 Recommended Coach, join me for the Facilitation Intensive on October 18 and discover strategies you can use to guide stakeholder expectations and decisions everywhere you go.