We have all seen it: facilitators who make you cringe with how they blatantly break one or more of the cardinal rules of facilitation. Just like there are seven separators of facilitation excellence in our practice, we have also identified what we call “the seven deadly sins of facilitation.” More times than not, the following sins by a facilitator will lead to some form of dysfunctional behavior by one or more members of the group. If the facilitator continues his/her behavior, full-scale revolt by the participants is quite possible.
- The facilitator chooses which comments merit recording on the flip charts. This can happen when the facilitator agrees with some comments and disagrees with others. Those comments with which the facilitator disagrees invariably don’t get recorded.
- The facilitator interprets the words that are spoken and records the interpretation, instead of recording what is said. When facilitators record their words instead of the words of the participants, facilitators are subtly saying, “You do not know how to speak. My words are better than yours.”
- The facilitator permits the group to wander away from the stated objective for extended periods of time. Those participants focused on purpose and results are likely to conclude that their time is being wasted, and they may become frustrated or choose to exit at their earliest opportunity.
- The facilitator permits the ground rules to be broken without taking visible, corrective action. It is not unusual for participants to break ground rules during a session. For example, people may hold side conversations, interrupt one another, or begin checking cell phones. If the facilitator doesn’t take corrective action when a ground rule is broken the first time, the implied message is, “It is okay to break the ground rules.” In a very short period, more and more participants may catch on. Before you know it, the session can be completely out of control!
- The facilitator is perceived as losing neutrality and favoring one position over another. When participants perceive that the facilitator is no longer neutral and has a preference, the seeds of distrust can begin to build, and participants can start interpreting the facilitator’s actions through a lens of bias.
- The facilitator speaks emotionally-charged words to a session attendee or permits a session attendee to speak emotionally-charged words to another – without taking visible, corrective action. When people begin speaking with high-charged emotions, it is a sign that they have moved out of collaboration and are responding with their fight instinct. Unfortunately, their reaction can cause others to move into fight or flight unless the facilitator steps in to re-establish calm and focus.
- The facilitator allows an atmosphere of distrust or disrespect to build between himself/herself and the session attendees. When facilitators lose the trust and respect of the group, it is “game over.” It is likely time for the facilitator to relinquish the role, turn the session over to someone else who may be able to regain trust and salvage the session.
Learn more about facilitation skills, including pitfalls like these to avoid, in our course, The Effective Facilitator. This popular, four-day course provides a structured approach for leading teams and facilitating meetings and covers over 100 techniques for getting amazing results from groups.
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About the Author
Michael Wilkinson is the CEO and Managing Director of Leadership Strategies, the largest provider of professional facilitators and facilitation training in the country. Michael is a much sought after trainer, facilitator and speaker. He is a Certified Master Facilitator and a Certified Professional Facilitator. As a past president of the Southeast Association of Facilitators, the creator of the FindaFacilitator.com database and a board member of the International Institute of Facilitation, Michael is a national leader in the facilitation industry. You can get more tips from Michael’s books, including The Executive Guide to Facilitating Strategy, The Secrets of Facilitation, The Secrets to Masterful Meetings, and CLICK: The Virtual Meetings Book.