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8 Facilitative Leadership Skills to Bring Out the Best Ideas

Posted on August 26, 2010 by Leslie Dickson

Updated: September 19th, 2018

A business colleague of mine used to have a saying:  “In a perfect world, I get to make all the decisions. In the next-best world, SOMEBODY makes all the decisions.”

While I appreciate the desire for clarity in marching orders, my years of VoicePRO® experience teaching leadership skills to organizations confirms it’s not a very effective approach. Good ideas can come from anyone. The ability to tap into the talents of a diverse group to surface those ideas – and build on them – is the hallmark of successful organizations.

That’s where the art of facilitative leadership of groups comes in. Do the job well and you’ll bring out the best. Handle things poorly and you could end up with a free-for-all and a disconnected hash of opinions.

Let’s start at the beginning.

A group’s facilitator is not the leader, the trainer or the control center. You’re not the conductor of an orchestra. Rather, this is a jazz group that’s improvising. You just make sure the beat goes on and everyone gets to play their parts. What does that mean? Your job – from your opening comments to the final wrap-up – is to be sure everyone knows what’s expected, keep the group open and cooperating, and work the planned agenda. In other words, you keep the group cohesive and focused so the objectives are met.

What Is a Leader?

What is leadership? It doesn’t just mean single-handedly managing a team and making every decision independently — to be instructed by you alone and carried out by those below you. Real leadership — and the best kind of leader — involves working with your team, combining talents, using the various perspectives and cultures of each individual’s background to the advantage of the whole, integrating ideas from everyone and achieving quality results by coaching, consulting and collaboration. It’s called the facilitative approach — and when you master it, it makes all the difference in the happiness, productivity, and success of your team.

You want to be a facilitative leader not just for your own good or the good of the company, but for everyone. While coordinating this careful balance between management and creative chaos may seem difficult, the facilitative leadership style focuses on using just the right amount of hands-on direction and equal team encouragement without being too dictatorial or too lenient — and facilitation is a skill almost anyone can master.

What Qualities Does a Facilitative Leader Possess?

If you want to learn the fundamentals of the facilitative leadership style, you’ll have to focus on developing and emphasizing a few basic, innate skills essential to bringing out the best in your team. The best facilitative leaders possess the following qualities:

  • Listening: As a good leader, you must not only talk and direct but also listen to your team’s ideas and perspectives in order to be able to summarize, analyze, paraphrase, reflect and question points and use them to move forward.
  • Participation: A facilitative leader shouldn’t direct tasks or ideas without personal involvement in their processes — and at the same time, you shouldn’t just let your team carry out plans on their own. The key is actively participating in planning, discussing and executing ideas and tasks along with your team — get involved!
  • Encouragement: Constructive criticism can be important, but positive reinforcement and encouragement are even more crucial. Recognize the good in your team and push them to be better by encouraging further discussion, participation and work ethic.
  • Collaboration: It’s not only your team that must collaborate — you have to, as well! In addition to leading group discussions, manage them and work to coordinate opinions, ideas, and perspectives.
  • Stimulation: Your team may come up with gold, but you have to help them dig! Stimulate your team members to consider various strategies, creative possibilities and informed decisions — and don’t be afraid to pitch your own ideas, as well!
  • Conflict managementCollaboration can sometimes mean conflict — when your team is struggling with opposing perspectives that may cause unease, you should know how to smoothly manage contrasting opinions and compromise for a better solution.
  • Innovation: Creativity is key! You shouldn’t just have a plethora of exciting ideas — you should have a healthy store of stimulating ways to help your team come up with their own. Plan innovative processes for idea-generation, creative thinking, and unique brainstorming.
  • Support: As a facilitative leader, you’re part of an inclusive, collaborative team that embraces different perspectives and honors participation. Show your team members you always have their backs and value their opinions. It’ll make all the difference.

The Facilitative Leadership Approach

As the launching point for collaboration, creativity, and idea generation, the right kind of communication is essential to a successful facilitative approach.

Here are some communication skills for facilitation –

  • Begin with the end in mind. Begin the meeting recapping the purpose and goals of the session. That means you’ll need to do some homework to arrive with a clear framework for the process, including a timed agenda.
  • Emphasize listening. Help your group understand that the group’s collective wisdom is stronger than any single person. Remind them that listening doesn’t necessarily imply agreement, it just keeps the door open to fresh ideas and points of view. There’s a great quote by Robert I. Sutton in a Harvard Business Review column titled 12 Things Good Bosses Believe:  “I aim to fight as if I am right, and listen as if I am wrong — and to teach my people to do the same thing.”  The last part of the quote is especially good advice in a group session.
  • No wallflowers, no stars. Involve everyone. In fact, communicate the importance of diversity and open communication as part of the opening of the meeting. Sometimes the most effective leadership is letting someone else lead.
  • Help people come at issues from different angles. Whether you’re designing a new process or attacking a marketing challenge, try to help people step outside the well-worn paths to think differently. There’s a great book called The Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono that helps the exploration. A group systematically “wears” the different thinking hats – white for facts and figures, yellow for positive speculation, black for caution, and so forth. See for yourself how Dr. de Bono describes the process.
  • Check the emotional barometer. Every participant comes to the session with expectations, perceptions, concerns, and fears. There will be disagreements. Emotions can bubble over and derail good discussion if you don’t diffuse the situation.
  • Clarify, summarize and test for consensus.  Helping keep everyone on the same page is crucial to making progress.
  • Shut down the judgment police. There are often a few group members who’ll be quick to explain why an idea won’t work. The facilitator needs to make it clear that ideas need to be nurtured not dismissed. Then, as needed, gently remind participants. One of my favorite methods is to bring a few soft spongy toy balls that participants can pitch at a naysayer in good fun.
  • Keep your eye on the clock. You have objectives to meet. Steer the conversation when it starts to get off track. A limited time frame can actually help focus energy on progress.

Having skills as a facilitator can help you make a difference in your organization as well as increasing your value to them. Learn and practice these tips. And, if you’re interested in building your capabilities, let’s talk about it.

Evolving Leadership

VoicePRO delivers transformative leadership and communication programs for individuals and companies across the globe. Through VoicePRO, professionals develop the advanced skills needed to communicate clearly, influence audiences and achieve results.

View our selection of corporate programs, individual executive communication coaching, and online group coaching classes, or connect with a consultant today.

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Evolving Leadership.

VoicePro delivers transformative leadership and communication programs for individuals and companies across the globe. Through VoicePro, professionals develop the advanced skills needed to communicate clearly, influence audiences and achieve results.

View our selection of individual and group programs, or connect with a consultant today.


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