Facilitation Skills: Self-Mastery Skills

Facilitation Skills: Self-Mastery Skills

What does it mean to be a facilitator?

According to Webster’s dictionary, “facilitate” means to make easier or less difficult. Effective facilitation should result in meetings where leaders and group members experience few obstacles and difficulties.

An outside facilitator is an unbiased group leader not normally associated with the specific issues of a meeting. The facilitative leader performs the same functions but is a member of the group who can also voice opinions and take responsibility for implementing decisions. For both, their role in a meeting is to help guide the dynamics of the group and the flow of the meeting. Just like a coach, the facilitator watches the group and offers tips on performance and keeps the team on track, working toward a common goal.

Attributes of an Effective Group Facilitator

No meeting is effective without an effective leader. Facilitation is a skill, and skills can be learned. The following attributes ( Butler ) can enhance your ability to facilitate and build a strong foundation. Personal attributes are difficult to change and to teach. It is up to you to work continuously on self-improvement.

Good sense of humor: Humor is one thing that can cut the ice, reduce tension and give you and your group energy in demanding situations. If in your meeting something less than ideal happens, you as the facilitator need to handle the resulting stress with confidence, style, and grace. If you can’t laugh at yourself in difficult situations, you will find meeting facilitation very trying!

Assertiveness: As the facilitator you need to have the ability and courage to speak the hard truth when necessary. If you are afraid to say what needs to be said when it needs to be said, you will not be as effective or credible. The challenge of assertiveness is knowing when to push and when to pull back. You need to know when to intervene to help keep the group on track and when to let things work themselves out. Just a reminder: There is a big difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness.

Intuition: Facilitation is not a skill that rests on applying a simple formula to get the “right answer.” You need to work at finding it on your own by identifying what is best for each situation. Intuition comes from experience, but also includes the ability to act on a hunch.

Creativity: Each time you facilitate you need to put together traditional, new, and creative ways to conduct the meeting. This is as important for the first meeting with a group or the hundredth. The meeting agenda reflects different theories, ideas and experiences integrated holistically.

Flexibility: As the facilitator, you must think on your feet, stay on your feet, and accept new and better ideas from others, to change or modify the course as needed. The facilitator who is attached to his or her first idea, or to his or her ideas in general, will encounter difficulty.

Confidence and enthusiasm: A key to success is the ability to appear credible, articulate and knowledgeable in front of the participants from the start and to sustain a level of energy and enthusiasm that lasts until all the participants have left.

Team player: One way to incorporate teamwork and commitment among the participants is to use alternate facilitators. As the main facilitator you are the moderator, interpreter, and timekeeper, not the star. Your recognition comes from the work you allow others to accomplish and the successes you help to build.

High self-esteem: If a situation is not going well, the facilitator may be blamed, whether the facilitator was the cause of the problem or not. Even if an individual or group takes their frustration out on you, you cannot take it personally. Make sure you separate your skill, experience, and job from your worth as a human being.

Sincerity: You, as the facilitator, must truly care about your group and its success and you need to practice what you preach.

Dedicated to learning: Good facilitators are dedicated to continuous improvement of their skills. The more tools you have available to use, the less likely you will panic when a certain technique doesn’t work the way you planned.


Butler, A.S. Team Think. (1996). The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Adapted with permission from Soil and Water Conservation District Outreach: A Handbook for Program Development, Implementation and Evaluation. Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Soil and Water Conservation, 2003.