Four Situations in Which Facilitation Skills Can Help Groups Function Better
A facilitator is a person who is responsible for structuring teams, groups or task forces, and their activities to allow for success in attaining agreed upon outcomes/organizational goals. Facilitation skills are grounded in the spirit of inquiry and revolve around encouraging a group to constantly learn and relearn, reflect, develop insights, and move towards a considered conclusion.

According to by Edgar Schein (1988) Process Facilitation is a “set of activities on the part of the consultant that helps the client to perceive, understand, and act upon the process events that occur in the client’s environment in order to improve the situation as defined by the client”.

There are many ways facilitation skills can be used to help manage situations.  Employing a facilitative approach can not only foster better outcomes, it also provides a model of a much better way to engage others as well as promoting individual accountability. Well-honed facilitation skills are an important competency for an OD Practitioner.  While there are many levels to being an effective facilitator, the following is a good starting point.

The group gets on a tangent
When this happens it is important to step back and review the goal itself.  While this behavior may more commonly occur during the forming stage, it can occur at any point during the session(s).  Referring to the goal may help to provide the clarity that wasn’t there in the beginning.  After goal clarity is achieved, the group needs to understand the current situation. Providing a succinct summary of the current situation will provide focus which will allow the group to move on to the next issue.

The group is silent
Many people stay silent because they think one person might stand up and speak for the whole group and they do not need to say anything. To understand what is going on, clarity of the situation is necessary. Ask how people are feeling and whether they are lost. Make sure the entire group responds to this question as you seek clarification about why people are being quiet. It’s important to determine why people are not participating.

A person or group of people are dominating
When the person takes a breath, jump in and ask for others’ comments or opinions (be gentle but firm).  When ground rules are formed at the beginning of the meeting, ensure that there is a rule about this type of situation.  Then, if there is such domination, you (and others in the group) can refer to that particular ground rule.

A person attacks another member of the group
As the ground rules are established at the beginning of the meeting by the group, most often someone in the group will come up with one that refers to respect for one another. Therefore, if one person attacks another group member, point out that the agreed upon ground rules prohibit such behaviors. This intervention will allow the group to feel safe and typically the bad behavior is curtailed.

Do state that all ideas are important, and the intention is for everyone to contribute without fear of reprisal.

To be successful at managing such situations, facilitators must work on improving their skills at dealing with difficult situations.  An experienced facilitator will know and feel comfortable intervening when tough situations arise.

Facilitating with Ease by Ingrid Bens
International Association of Facilitators (

Additional information:

Our OD Process Professional Certification Program (ODPC) covers facilitation skills in detail.