Generally speaking, the session leader said, the job of the facilitator in any group setting is to ensure the group achieves a good outcome, not to drive them towards any pre-determined outcome. I agree, and this is also the responsibility that my staff and I assume when we work with one of our association's committees or task forces.
Each group has a set of decisions that its members have been asked to make, and it is not the job of our staff to make those decisions for them. Rather, it often falls to staff to be the facilitator in the needed discussion and decision process.
In one key sense, however, I think it's fair to think of this role not just as a facilitator, but as a facilitative leader. What's the difference? Well, in our environment, the work doesn't end when the facilitated decision has been made. That's just the first step. Action follows each decision, action that frequently the staff must lead, and which requires them to engage other volunteers, committees, or task forces in its execution.
This means that the staff person is more than just a facilitator. They are a champion and an advocate for the outcome of their facilitation. They have to communicate the decision to others and engage them in supporting the actions that naturally flow from it.
This isn't always easy. With each new person or group, there exists the potential for confusion or disagreement. Wait a minute, someone might say. I wasn't part of the original decision. I'm not sure I agree with it. If staff stays in facilitator mode, this resistance will turn into another facilitated conversation. One that has the potential of adjusting or overturning the facilitated decision that has already been made.
Instead, in these circumstances, staff must adopt the pose of leadership. They are there to represent the process and outcome that came before, and to engage the necessary stakeholders in its execution. This is a very different role for them to play. But it is essential if the association is to advance its mutually-determined objectives.
The session I attended helped me put these thoughts together. There were several other great takeaways that I'm in the process of bringing back to my staff. I'll share more in my next blog post.
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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit www.ericlanke.blogspot.com, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.