One of a facilitators (particularly a new facilitators) greatest fears is the possibility that the group will object to what’s they’re doing or not cooperate with them in some way.
Challenges may come to you directly through verbal objections: “This process isn’t working”…”Your style isn’t working with our group”…”Why do you keep interupting us?”…etc.
Challenges may also come indirectly through behaviors: Participants are slow to respond to your suggestions, they talk amongst themselves, they are ignoring you, members take over the facilitation role without consent, participants consistently arrive back late from breaks, etc.
Challenges such as these, particularly direct challenges, are not only valid forms of communication from the group, but signs of a mature group that’s strong enough to challenge what they feel isn’t working. Challenges need to be resolved immediately by restating the challenge back to the group, asking for clarification if needed, and checking with the entire group for consensus.
If the group concurs that something needs to change, ask them to suggest a process or direction they think is appropriate. If their isn’t a strong consensus, you might suggest continuing on the present course to see if things clear up and revisit the issue later in the meeting. If a single participant brought up the issue and doesn’t agree to this, then ask them to make a specific request.
Remember that you are only one member of the group and that you require their support and cooperation to help them reach their goals. If something isn’t working, it’s the entire groups’ responsibility to get to the source of the problem.
Ultimately, it may turn out that you’re not the right facilitator for this group at this time. This is not necessarily a reflection on your abilities, it just may be that your skills or style don’t fit their needs at this time. Elicit any feedback you can from the group and check to see if you can use it in the future to improve. Acknowledge that you’re OK and they’re OK and move on.
What Do We Do With Facilitator Challenges?
Be Curious and Accepting. If you’re in a group and have received challenges like any of those listed above, an attitude of acceptance and openness is a critical first step. Open curiosity and acceptance of criticism is rarely seen in our culture. This attitude alone is sometimes enough for a breakthrough. From this stance, you and the group will be able to hear and receive information that may help you move forward.
Solicit Feedback. Ask group members for specific perceptions and feedback. Here is some sample language for that:
There have been several challenges to my facilitation at this meeting. I can only fulfill this role with your consent and support. Let’s have a look at what is and isn’t working for each person.
Then go around the room and get input from every participant. If any of the inputs are unclear, ask that they be restated until you understand them and ask one of the members record responses. If next actions aren’t clear by going through this process, make or ask for suggestions in resolving the issues noted.
Reflect on any challenge you’ve received as a facilitator. What have you learned from it? Has what you’ve learned helped you to be a better facilitator? We’d love to hear your perspective on this important subject. Please share your questions, feedback, or experience on this topic below.