What is Facilitation?
Facilitation can be used to lead people toward agreed-upon objectives in a manner that encourages participation, ownership and creativity by all involved. A well-facilitated session can unlock collective intelligence and play an important role in providing opportunities for people to progress and succeed. Good facilitation enables transparency and collaboration, creates synergy and leads to achieving a collective objective.
A facilitator plays an important role in helping people to understand and achieve their shared goals and objectives. They do this while remaining neutral and impartial. Facilitators enable a purposeful and participative environment in which people feel safe to engage, learn and collaborate. They encourage people to explore different perspectives, harness diversity and leverage collective wisdom.
Skills and Traits of a Facilitator
Facilitators can come from many backgrounds and have varying levels of experience. Great facilitators, however, demonstrate the following skills and traits:
Active Listening: A facilitator has the ability to listen actively, and focus completely on what is said and what is not said. They lead by example, inspiring participants to both fully express themselves and engage in active listening when others are speaking.
Encouraging Curiosity: A facilitator encourages curiosity and different viewpoints. They are skilled in asking powerful, often open-ended questions, in order to stimulate reflection and discussion.
Problem Solving: A facilitator is skilled at applying group problem-solving techniques. They can help a group define a problem, reframe it as a clear problem statement and encourage the group to consider a range of solutions to the problem.
Resolving Conflict: A facilitator recognizes that conflict among group members is natural and, as long as it’s expressed appropriately, does not need to be suppressed. Conflict should be expected and dealt with constructively and respectfully.
Using a Participative Style: A facilitator encourages all participants to actively engage and contribute in activities and discussions, depending on their individual comfort levels. This includes creating a safe and comfortable atmosphere, in which group members are willing to share their thoughts and ideas.
Encouraging Openness: A facilitator encourages the group to be open to other people’s ideas, suggestions and perspectives.
Empathizing and Showing Compassion: A facilitator is understanding, aware and respectful of the feelings, perspectives or actions of others.
Demonstrating Leadership: A facilitator leads a group of people to reach their collective goals and objectives.
Building Consensus: A facilitator is skilled in helping groups to achieve general agreement.
Managing Time Effectively: A facilitator keeps things on course while allowing flexibility. They focus on achieving the outcome within a timeframe instead of a strict agenda. Overly restrictive time management can stifle good, purposeful conversations and reflection, whereas a lack of time management can limit focus and progress.
Setting Objectives: A facilitator communicates the purpose of a meeting in a clear and concise manner. This can be done by setting a strong overarching objective (often done in collaboration with the team) instead of focusing on a strict agenda.
Communicating Adequately: A facilitator communicates effectively, using clear and concise language.
Being Organized: Facilitation does not start or end with the act of facilitating a group of people. It includes preparation and following-up on decisions that were made.
Why is Facilitation Beneficial for Scrum Teams?
Open and respectful communication will help a Scrum Team thrive as a self-managing team. While members on a Scrum Team should talk to each other whenever they need to, Scrum assures communication points for the team in the Scrum events. Every event has a specific purpose and the team benefits from having these events facilitated with the desired outcome in mind.
Any person on the Scrum Team can facilitate the Scrum events. For example, Sprint Planning is more effective and exploratory when someone on the team, acting as an objective facilitator, knows how to frame problems to understand how Product Backlog Items may be valuable for customers. A Developer may be a great person to do that, given their familiarity with the product.
Often, Scrum events don’t go as planned. Good, lightweight facilitation can help the Scrum Teams get back on track. For example, if the Scrum Master observes that the team continually uses the Daily Scrum as a status update instead of an inspection of progress toward the Sprint Goal, then the Scrum Master could help team members to focus by reminding them of the purpose of the event. This will encourage team members to shift their focus from tasks to how they can collaborate toward achieving the Sprint Goal.
Taking on a facilitator stance is also valuable for a Product Owner, especially at the Sprint Review when the Scrum Team and stakeholders inspect progress toward the Product Goal, gather stakeholder feedback and adapt the Product Backlog accordingly. When done well, the Product Owner and Developers can learn and hear different opinions from the stakeholders. When not done as well, the Product Owner risks anchoring or limiting the information gathered, reducing the effectiveness of the Sprint Review.
Learn more about facilitation techniques for Scrum events
Explore more blogs and resources about facilitation from Scrum.org
Other Resources About Facilitation
Here are more resources on facilitation techniques and to help you develop the skill of facilitation:
- International Association of Facilitators - The International Association of Facilitators (IAF) is an international participatory organization that provides accreditation, community, and education on the power of facilitation.
- Liberating Structures - Liberating Structures are microstructures that enhance relational coordination and foster lively participation in groups, making it possible to include everyone.
- Tasty Cupcakes - A community-run website with different games, techniques and approaches for facilitation
- Training from the Back of the Room - Training based on brain science principles
- Bikablo - Visualizing Dialogue and Thinking
- SeriousWork - Facilitator techniques around practice-based learning