In today’s dynamic and interconnected world, collaboration and teamwork have become essential components for success in various domains. To harness the full potential of a group, a skilled facilitator plays a pivotal role in fostering an environment of psychological safety, trust, transparency, and clarity.
How to achieve that? Let us discover some ways of establishing and maintaining those critical elements throughout the engagement with the group.
- Set Clear Expectations: Clearly outline the session’s purpose, objectives, and expected outcomes at the beginning. Let participants know what they can expect from the session and what is expected of them. This creates a sense of structure and clarity, allowing participants to understand their role in the process.
For example, this can be done by outlining the purpose and objectives of the virtual class at online collaboration board or a presentation slide. Or a facilitator can hold a small exercise for each participant to define, what he or she wants to get out of the session or a meeting.
- Create a Safe Environment: Foster an atmosphere of psychological safety by encouraging open communication and emphasizing that all ideas and perspectives are valued. Avoid judgmental language or behaviors, and actively listen to participants without interrupting. Make it clear that disagreements and challenges are welcome when expressed respectfully.
For example, a facilitator can react to an idea of a participant with an encouraging and supporting message: “Thank you for sharing your innovative idea! It’s essential that we explore all possibilities, and your input is valuable.”
- Establish Ground Rules: Collaboratively create a set of ground rules or guidelines that outline how participants should engage with one another during the session. Refer to these rules if any issues arise during the session. Some examples of such rules are:
- Ask stupid questions
- All ideas are welcome
- We have breaks each 50 minutes
- Stand up from the computer during the break (applies for online sessions/meetings)
- Be respectful to other participants ideas
- Listen carefully and don’t interrupt
There are a few ways of setting the ground rules:
- Gather them from the participants by asking “What rules would help us to make this session/meeting successful?”
- Ask participants to choose from the list of presented rules (which a facilitator prepares in advance)
- Present earlier prepared rules to the audience
- Lead by Example: Demonstrate the behavior you expect from participants. Show vulnerability and openness in sharing your thoughts and experiences. Be receptive to feedback and show appreciation for the contributions of others. This sets the tone for a supportive and trusting environment.
For example, a facilitator can start the session by sharing a story about a relevant topic or situation, which will demonstrate openness and encourage others to share their experiences as well.
- Encourage Participation: Actively involve all participants in discussions and activities. Create opportunities for everyone to contribute and ensure that quieter voices are heard. Encouraging participation helps build confidence and reinforces the notion that everyone’s input is valuable.
For example, during a decision-making discussion, the facilitator turns to a quieter participant and asks, "What are your thoughts on this? We’d love to hear your perspective."
- Address Conflicts Respectfully: Conflicts may arise during the session. When handling conflicts, remain neutral and avoid taking sides. Encourage participants to express their perspectives and facilitate a constructive discussion to find common ground or resolution. Emphasize the importance of respectful disagreement.
Intervention of a discussion of two different opinions by saying "It’s great to see different viewpoints. Let’s take a moment to understand both sides and find common ground." will be an excellent way to prevent the conflicting situation.
- Be Transparent: Be open and honest about the session’s process, the reasons behind specific activities, and the decision-making criteria. Transparency helps participants feel included and informed, reducing misunderstandings and building trust.
For example, a facilitator can explain the icebreaker exercise by telling the audience: "We’ll start with this activity to help everyone get to know each other better and feel more comfortable working together throughout the session."
- Regularly Check for Understanding: Pause at intervals to ask participants if they have any questions or need clarifications. This helps ensure that everyone comprehends the information and direction provided.
For example, a facilitator can pause and ask, "Does anyone have any questions about the timeline we just discussed? I want to make sure we’re all clear on the milestones."
- Follow up and Follow Through: After the session, provide a summary of what was discussed and any action items or next steps. Follow through on commitments made during the session to demonstrate reliability and accountability.
For example, after the session, the facilitator sends an email summarizing the ideas generated during the brainstorming and assigns tasks to each team member based on their strengths and interests.
- Seek Feedback: Encourage participants to share feedback about the session and your facilitation. Feedback provides valuable insights and helps you continuously improve your skills as a facilitator.
Reserve 5 min at the end of the session to collect the feedback from the participants, for example, by writing it on the sticky notes.
By implementing these tips in practice, a facilitator can create a supportive and productive environment that fosters psychological safety, trust, transparency, and clarity, enabling participants to engage effectively and collaboratively during the session.