Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts for Effective Facilitation

A list of tips for facilitating any group activity

The 5 Do’s

Here are some things you want to do:

Model the Behavior You Want

Group members will mimic the behavior of other members in the group, especially the facilitator. If you’re acting like the activity is a chore, then the group will believe it’s not worth their time. However, if you’re bringing positive energy and engagement to the work, you’ll see the energy of the group change in response. Be mindful of the belonging cues you’re sending out. Everything from your expressions, eye contact, body posture, energy, and most importantly, the language you’re using. These cues demonstrate to the group how they should engage with one another.

Create Clarity

The primary role of the facilitator is to help the group find clarity. This can be achieved by simply being curious and inquisitive.

Be Inclusive

As a facilitator, it’s your job to ensure that everyone has equal opportunity to contribute. But here’s the thing to remember: each person contributes in their own way. Great facilitators are attentive to each group member. They’re empathetic and don’t treat facilitation as a “one size fits all” strategy. If you have members in the group that are shy or quiet, it may just mean that their style of collaboration isn’t to just “jump in and start talking”. Consider providing multiple ways to contribute to the discussion.

Be Positive

This may seem self-explanatory, but the facilitator must maintain the voice of positivity within the group. As a facilitator, you’re looking to remove tension, not add to it. Constantly reminding the group that they’re running out of time or that they’re off track doesn’t help. It adds anxiety and makes facilitation more about your need to control the group, rather than helping the group work effectively with one another.

Have Fun!

Listen. I get it. Work is important and we’re all trying to achieve serious things. But I just don’t understand how we’ve convinced ourselves that work should be completely devoid of fun.

The 5 Don'ts

Here are some things you should try and avoid:

Don’t Be Afraid to Lead

You may have come to this list because you’ve been asked to facilitate a group activity for the first time. Perhaps you’re feeling a bit of imposter syndrome and you’re unsure of asserting yourself as the lead of the group.

Don’t Have All the Answers

Don’t fall into the false belief that, as the facilitator, you have to have an answer to every question that comes your way. That’s just not possible.

Don’t Do All the Talking

You may be tempted to talk your way through a group who’s quietly struggling. Do your best to avoid this.

Don’t Seek Consensus on Everything

Not every decision needs to be reached by consensus. Especially decisions around how the group should organize themselves for the activity or how the work should be delivered. Where you can, do that work upfront and save your group’s “consensus energy” for the decisions that matter.

Don’t Ignore Non-Inclusive Behaviors

The most common situation I’ve mentored other facilitators on is the dreaded “difficult group member”. We know these group members all too well. They talk over other group members, they roll their eyes at others’ suggestions, they’re aggressive, and pout when they don’t get their way.

  1. Redirect: If a group member seems fixated on one idea, give them an opportunity to generate an opinion on something else. Example: “I really like your idea on this. I’m curious though, what are your thoughts on <the thing you want them to focus on>? Do you have something else we should be considering here?”
  2. Draw others into the conversation: If one person has held the spotlight for too long, feel free to move it to someone else. Example: “Anyone have thoughts on what he’s saying here? Is there anything else we should be thinking about? Tom, I noticed you got cut off earlier, did you have something to add?”
  3. Make connections: One of the most powerful tools I use as a facilitator is having the freedom to say what others might not be able to say themselves. A great way to do this is by making connections between other group members. Stating the differences in opinions you’re hearing can help nudge the conversation in a healthy direction. Example: “That’s a really interesting point Mike, but I feel like I’m hearing something different from Teressa. Teressa, do we have another thought on this that I should be considering?” Note: Notice the use of I and we here. I’m using myself and the group as a proxy between Mike and Teressa, helping diffuse any tensions while creating clarity between them.

Additional Resources

MURAL: The Definitive Guide to Facilitating Remote Workshops

UX Researcher and Author