Effective groups

Effective group facilitation can increase productivity, effectiveness, and enjoyment by group members. Keeping in mind a few key elements of group work can help you be the right facilitator for your group.

Know Your Purpose

Is the point of the group to accomplish a goal, to teach members something or to have fun. It may be a combination, but keeping in the mind the mix of intentions is important. The degree to which you're able to focus the group in the direction of your purpose, the more successful the group will feel.

Know Your Group Members

Are members looking for a time to relax and get to know one another or are they busy people who want to get the job done and move on with their lives? Understanding where the group is a whole or the group dynamics can also be helpful. Check the resource below on Stages of Group Development for more detail.

Plan Ahead

Having a plan of both how you would like to move the group through its business will help you, and the group, stay on task. Group members often feel more trusting of the process when they have a written agenda or hear the game plan up front.

Facilitation A, B, C's

Lay the Ground Rules

  • Explain the purpose of the dialogue or activity
  • Explain what level of confidentiality participants can expect
  • Suggest or create guidelines for conversation (e.g. give the person who is talking full attention)
  • Critique ideas, not people

Verbal Techniques: What to Say

  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Phrase requests to encourage more responses
  • Acknowledge and positively respond to contributions made by participants
  • Ask for more specifics or examples
  • Redirect questions or comments to other members of the group
  • Encourage non-vocal participants to participate
  • Paraphrase for clarity and understanding
  • Avoid stating your opinion or interjecting your own ideas while facilitating
  • Refer to contributions people have made *

*Fran Rees, How to Lead Work Teams, 1991

Behavioral Techniques: What to Do

  • Observe body language and make adequate inferences
  • Listen to and draw out others
  • Respectfully, but firmly cut members off who monopolize airtime
  • Tune into the group's energy
  • Give appreciation to others and receive appreciation from them
  • Guide the focus
  • Express appropriate thoughts and feelings
  • Ask for what is needed
  • Clarify personal limits
  • Constant awareness of the purpose of the group and your role as facilitator*

*Karen Finch, Group Facilitation and Processing Skills, 1996