Simple tools help facilitators be successful

Michigan State University (MSU) Extension offers tips, workshops to aid in facilitative success.

A facilitator is someone who helps a group of people understand their common objectives and assists the group in planning and achieving their objectives without taking a particular position in the discussion. Facilitators focus on the process as opposed to the content of a meeting. Skilled facilitators have many tools and materials that can help a group move forward, stay focused, and achieve agreeable outcomes. Facilitator tools assist the group in achieving a consensus on disagreements that pre-exist or emerge in the meeting so that the group has a strong basis for future action.

Flipcharts enhanced with effective visual support are usually more striking than presentations given without visual support. Color and graphics can be added very easily with a purchase as cheap and simple as a box of markers. There have also been several publications printed on how to make presentations more visually appealing to assist facilitators with creative designs. The most important point to remember in preparing your flip charts is to start preparing them early.

A technique a facilitator might use to keep participants on track with regard to time could include the use of a chime, train whistle, or other device to catch the attention of participants and let them know it’s time reconvene as a group. Additionally, during breaks and other group work, facilitators may use odd amounts of time, such as 7 or 12 minutes breaks instead of 5 or 10 minutes. This catches the attention of participants and often helps bring them back on time.

There are several tools facilitators might use to enhance process, creativity, and thinking skills for participants. Examples of these tools include Play-Doh, Silly Putty, stress balls, Koosh balls, pipe cleaners and other easily manipulated objects. These tools may be used to ask participants to design an idea and speak about it, or as a method to allow participants to use their hands during appropriate portions of meetings. Tool kits may also be created by a facilitator to use for introductions or icebreakers. Each group may be handed a small kit containing items such as small change, glue, road map, rubber bands, compass, glasses, etc. Participants can then indicate what each item represents for the outcome of the meeting or for establishing ground rules.

MSU Extension offers a Facilitative Leadership course twice per year. This workshop is for both new and experienced leaders, managers, and facilitators who would like to develop or improve their facilitative leadership skills. The goal is to provide experiential grounding in leading groups to have more effective and efficient meetings and work together in a positive and productive way. To learn more about this and other programs contact an expert in your area, visit, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

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