Key facilitation skills for trainers and how to improve them


Jan 17, 2022 - Rasool Somji

Improving the competencies, knowledge and skills of staff is vital in today's work environment. This is why many companies organise numerous workshops and training courses for their employees.

However, to ensure great meeting outcomes and increase a team's efficiency, company's need skilled and effective facilitators to guide the group.

A reliable facilitator makes things easier for the team by fostering engagement and helping in decision-making. Unfortunately, facilitating is no easy task, and you need to have the right skills, tools and techniques to pull it off.

This guide covers some of the key facilitation skills you need as a trainer and how you can improve them. But before we dive in, let's look at what a facilitator does.

So, who is a facilitator?

Simply put, a facilitator guides a team through a process such as a workshop to help them focus, unleash their potential and avoid the common pitfalls that come with collaboration. Their primary role is to help the group become more efficient and improve the overall outcome of the training course, meeting or workshop.

To achieve this, they perform a wide range of tasks, including:

  • Support individuals within a group to understand their common objectives
  • Foster individual participation and get team members to develop thoughts, ideas and perspectives that add value
  • Help participants collectively move through a process, e.g., meeting or workshop
  • Structure conversations to keep discussions effective
  • Encourage participants to ask questions and find solutions

It's essential to note that a facilitator doesn't solve a team's challenges. They only act as a guide to help a team move through a process easier and overcome the problems they face at every stage of the process.

Facilitation skills in action

Key facilitation skills for trainers

Do you want to become a great facilitator? If so, you'll need to develop certain skills to become one. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about facilitation online that can discourage you from pursuing it as a career. Some can also shift your focus to all the wrong things, adversely affecting the effectiveness of your facilitation.

Luckily for you, we've compiled seven key facilitation skills below that can help you become a great facilitator.

1. Master the facilitation mindset

Most facilitators have difficulty mastering the facilitation mindset. This, in turn, affects their facilitation abilities. If you want to become a reliable facilitator, keep this in mind – "be the guide, not the hero."

More too often, facilitators feel more superior and smarter than the teams they're guiding, which negatively impacts how they offer support. Instead of helping a group do their best work, they show off how good they are by solving problems, which a facilitator shouldn't do.

With the right facilitation mindset, you're able to become an active listener, tune into your group's needs and make sure the process moves along swiftly. This way, participants can develop their own ideas and ask questions rather than overpowering them with yours.

2. Improve time management

Participants tend to lose interest when workshops, meetings and training courses drag along. This is why good facilitators ensure the process moves at the right pace while maintaining team engagement. However, to achieve this, you need to learn how to effectively manage time at a workshop, meeting or training course.

You can start by implementing a time-boxing technique, where you allocate just the right time needed to complete a particular activity. For example, you can give participants a quiz with a time limit of 15 to 20 minutes. Once the time is up, the group has to submit their quizzes, allowing you to move on to the next step.

Time management not only ensures you can keep the momentum going throughout the workshop but also motivates your team and keeps them focused.

3. Shortcut circular discussions

Shortcutting circular discussions is an essential facilitation skill. Why? Circular discussions waste time and drain your team's energy, lowering their engagement. A great facilitator should limit or stop circular discussions so everyone can move on. You can do this by:

  • Setting the topic aside for later discussion
  • Asking participants to vote so that the majority wins and you can all move forward
  • Recording the issue to make participants feel heard. You can then go back to it later

When shortcutting circular discussions, be gentle, patient and considerate. The last thing you want is for your participants to feel dismissed as they'll never let go of the topic/issue, preventing you from moving forward.

4. Keep energy levels high

Energy is a vital component in facilitation as it increases team engagement, ensuring participants do their best throughout the process. As a facilitator, you should keep a room energised at all times, especially if the workshop or meeting is long and contains numerous steps.

Failure to do so leaves teams bored, overwhelmed, stressed and drained before the process ends.

You can keep energy levels high by introducing physical activities such as taking a five-minute walk or clapping to maintain the focus of your group. These activities keep the brain active while giving participants a much-needed break from the long conversations and discussions.

5. Curb team politics and groupthink

Meetings and workshops can quickly turn into political discussions, where the most senior or loudest participant uses their power to do all the talking, influencing other participants. In the end, discussions spiral out of control, and everyone understands the process differently, impacting the overall outcome.

Great facilitators stop team politics and groupthink by fostering a collaborative environment where everyone shares ideas, participates in discussions and brainstorms. They ensure no participant is superior to the other and stop endless debates that are off-topic.

It's important to note that navigating team politics can be difficult, but if you assert authority, you can get everyone back on track and continue the workshop or meeting.

6. Give clear instructions

Much of facilitation involves asking participants to complete certain tasks or activities. Without clear instructions, teams will find it challenging to accomplish your task, making the entire process draining and overwhelming.

So, it's vital to give clear instructions during facilitation by following three frameworks – what, why and how. Simply tell your group what you're about to do, how to do it and why you're doing it.

Never assume that just because you're familiar with the task, your participants are too. You're more likely to omit important details that make it harder for your participants to complete the task.

7. Be flexible

Many things can go wrong during a workshop or meeting, throwing off your schedule. If you're not flexible, this can take a toll on your facilitation abilities and discourage you. Unfortunately, there's no way to avoid hiccups or mishaps in a process, but there are ways to overcome them and get back on track.

Plan ahead and be prepared

Plan ahead and be prepared for every possible scenario. For example, if an exercise runs overtime, what can you do to make up for the lost time?

Alternatively, if there's a troublemaker in the group, how will you deal with them? Plan this beforehand so that when it happens, it doesn't catch you off-guard, and you know exactly what to do to handle the problem.

Adjust your expectations

Many facilitators make the mistake of having high expectations, and when their participants fall short, they get frustrated. You should know that everyone has different skills and abilities, and not all can learn a concept immediately or within a short time. Therefore, be patient with your team and adapt on the fly if some participants fall behind.



How to improve your facilitation skills

Now that you know the key facilitation skills for trainers, it's time to improve them to keep you going. You can do this by:

1. Practice

The best way to learn something and be good at it is to practice. Grasping the theory won't help much if you can't apply it in real life and take note of the challenges or problems faced. So, seek more opportunities to facilitate to sharpen your facilitation skills. You'll identify areas that need improvement, increasing your confidence.

2. Focus on your strengths

You can't be good at everything, so there's no point in beating yourself up over your shortcomings. Instead of focusing on your weaknesses and the areas you need to improve, double down on your strengths. For example, if you're good at activating a team and keeping their energy levels high, focus on that.

However, don't ignore other components of facilitation, as everything ties together to make the process effective.

3. Be a proactive learner

You may already have the skills and tools required to become a great facilitator, but this doesn't mean you should stop learning and rely solely on your skillset. A reliable facilitator is open to improving their skills by learning new tools and techniques like remote facilitation, which is becoming popular in today's work environment.

Find time to experiment with new ideas such as online/virtual facilitation and read more to stay ahead of the learning curve.


Bottom line

Overall, facilitation is an ongoing process that requires continuous learning, dedication and commitment. Just follow this guide, and you can become a great facilitator within no time.