As a leader, you’re also a facilitator. You make things run the way they are supposed to run. You make things happen. You play a critical role in bringing people together and ensuring that they work productively and collaboratively.
Even if you’re not at a managerial level in your career, you can still be an effective facilitator. In fact, having facilitation as a skill in your repertoire — and on your resume — will get you far in your career, helping you land the jobs you want and allowing you to become a respected leader, no matter what your title.
What are facilitation skills?
Facilitation is about making things happen. It encompasses a vast array of skills that contribute to a stronger end result, whether that’s a product, a skill, a meeting, a service or something else. These skills aren’t limited to the workplace, although they will make you a better worker.
However, why you are contributing to a superior result by virtue of leading the effort (or rather, facilitating the effort), you are not directly involved in the production process or phase. For example, if an argument takes place, you would stay neutral as a facilitator, perhaps acting as a moderator rather than taking and supporting a specific side or school of thought.
At the same time, as a facilitator, you should shepherd people involved along in a specific effort to reach a conclusion.
There are numerous skills involved in effective facilitation. Below, we’ll take a look at some of the most critical abilities.
Examples of facilitation skills
So, what are the skills that contribute to facilitation? They include:
• Planning: Facilitators must be able to plan ahead to ensure processes run smoothly.
• Organization: This process involves the ability to stay organized yourself and be able to handle the moving parts and pieces.
• Moderation and conflict management: When parties disagree, a facilitator should be able to steer a project or discuss and get things back on track, all while remaining neutral.
• Designing: Facilitators must build and design processes.
• Goal-setting: You should be able to define and establish goals that contribute to stronger outcomes.
• Communication: Communication in many respects — oral, written and active listening — is critical for getting the job done.
• Empathy: Though not a “skill” perse, empathy is an important quality to have, because facilitators must be able to listen to and support others involved in their efforts. They should also ensure everyone feels heard and able to voice their opinion.
• Directing and management: Facilitators will need to be able to spearhead efforts and manage others in an effort to reach their end goals through a hands-off approach.
• Guideline-setting: Facilitators will establish guidelines to encourage construction decision-making.
• Time management: In this role, you will need to be able to keep track of time and manage it efficiently, not just for yourself but for everyone involved in the larger effort.
• Flexibility: Part of facilitation involves knowing when and being able to change course when the situation calls for it — in other words, understanding that not everything is set in stone.
• Project management: From agenda-setting to close monitoring of progress, project management is an essential skill for facilitators, who must stay involved in the efforts, even if they’re watching and monitoring from the sidelines.
Why are facilitation skills important?
Facilitators play a critical role in getting the ball rolling and making things happen at work and beyond. This contributes to greater progress, efficiency, cohesion and productivity. At the end of the day, this translates into success.
It’s also an important part of conflict resolution. Without an unbiased facilitator contributing, some disputes may never be fully resolved. Facilitators also play an important role in problem-solving and involving everyone you need to complete the project.
Whether it’s a meeting, a discussion, a project or another effort, things run more smoothly and more effectively with the help of a facilitator making everything happen behind the scenes. These crucial skills will not only make you a better leader and employee, but you’ll also be a more marketable job candidate. In addition, while you’re developing and honing your facilitation skills, you’ll grow as a professional and capable, self-sufficient individual.
5 ways to improve your facilitation skills
Facilitation skills aren’t innate — nobody is born with the ability to plan a meeting or spearhead a project. Sure, some people are more inclined to lead than others. But as with many other important skills for life and work, you can grow them and improve them over time.
1. Take stock of your strengths and weaknesses.
As with any skill, the journey toward becoming an effective facilitator starts by recognizing and understanding what you’re already good at and what needs improvement. Reflect on the facilitation skills you already have, using the list above as your guide and maybe even adding some of your own if they’re relevant. Chances are, you already have many facilitation skills — you just might need to flex them a little more!
You also need to understand your weaknesses. Any good facilitator is able to pinpoint areas where they can improve.
Once you understand these qualities about yourself, you can devote more time to putting your strengths into use and improving your weaknesses or preventing them from inhibiting your strengths.
2. Look for opportunities to practice.
Practice makes perfect — it’s a cliche for a reason.
Seek out opportunities where you can use your facilitation skills. Perhaps your boss is on vacation, and you can volunteer to run a team meeting. Or maybe there’s a new project on the table without a project manager. Why not take it on and use it as a means of honing your facilitation skills as the project manager?
You can look for opportunities to facilitate in small ways, too. For example, if a conflict arises during a project in which you’re participating, try your hand at mediating and attempting to resolve the conflict without involving your manager.
3. Read up on and use tools and trends.
Facilitation involves plenty of tools, techniques and tricks. One of your best sources of inspiration is literature about and trends in the concept of facilitation.
Learn about the news in this important concept and associated skills. Study the tools of the trade. Find out about the best practices. It’s best to search routinely to discover trends and literature about facilitation to ensure that you’re up to date.
4. Get mentorship.
Observing others who are good at facilitation will encourage you to become a better facilitator yourself. Watch how others prepare for and lead meetings and projects. Take note of the various skills and methods that go into the process of making them happen.
You can make this a more formal arrangement by seeking out the help of an experienced facilitator. It could be your existing mentor or someone you admire. Let them know you’d like to develop your facilitation skills and ask them if they would be able to support you.
5. Become certified.
If you’re serious about honing your facilitation skills and making it a pivotal part of your career, there are courses and certification programs you can pursue.
For example, Georgetown University offers the Executive Certificate in Facilitation, which follows a cohort-based program intended to prepare senior-level managers and leaders in the art and science of effective facilitation for meetings and other discussions, touching on topics like Equity in Facilitation and Virtual Facilitation.
You can also find programs and courses on sites like Coursera, many of which specialize in helping students develop different types of facilitation competencies and associated skills.
How to use your facilitation skills to be a better leader
1. Practice active listening.
Make sure your employees feel heard. This involves active listening. Pay attention to what each team member says. Not only will this go a long way in helping them feel supported and encouraged, but you may hear some great ideas you would have never previously considered. Remember — active listening isn’t just about listening. It’s also about responding and demonstrating that you’re paying attention to the other person.
Active listening is an important facilitation skill. It’s also a pivotal leadership skill, one that will enhance the cohesion and teamwork in your team and efforts. It’s also a critical part of being an empathetic leader.
2. Check in with team members routinely.
This goes hand in hand with being an active listen. In order to ensure that things are running smoothly and effectively, it’s important to check in with each team member. This is a way to measure and track progress.
Of course, you should avoid checking in so frequently that your employees or colleagues feel micromanaged. That’s the opposite of what you want as a leader. Instead, strike a balance that allows you to stay informed and apprised of your team’s progress while still affording your team members autonomy.
3. Clearly define your goals and ensure everyone involved understands them.
Goal-setting is a huge part of facilitation. Your goals will give your project or meeting a clear direction and means of measuring your progress.
A good leader and facilitator asks for input from their team as part of their goal-setting. In addition, once you’ve established clear objectives and benchmarks on the road to achieving them, make sure everyone understands the goals and recognizes how the role they play in the bigger picture.
4. Promote inclusivity.
Effective leaders and facilitators recognize and value the opinions of all people, no matter what their background, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, national origin and so on. Moreover, they include the perspectives of those who aren’t necessarily high up in the office hierarchy. They can appreciate that everyone, from the intern to the CEO, could have something valuable to contribute.
Using your facilitation skills, you can promote an inclusive environment for your team and the larger organization. You can encourage participation from many different people. Strive to make this environment one that supports and uplifts the perspectives and opinions of everyone.
5. Be flexible.
More often than not, things don’t go precisely according to plan. As part of your facilitation skills and efforts, you’ll need to be able to change course when necessary or consider new approaches and directions.
In other words, be flexible. Accept that your original plan might not be the best one or that there might be aspects of your plan that need altering. As an effective facilitator, this is an important part of leading your team and efforts.
How to put facilitation skills on a job application
If you have strong facilitation skills, how do you best showcase them when you’re applying for a job? Here are some ways to highlight them in different aspects of the application and hiring process.
1. Add them to a skills section on your resume.
The skills section on your resume is perhaps one of the most obvious places to underscore your facilitation skills. Here, you can add different types of facilitation skills, such as project management, conflict resolution, time management, flexibility and so on. With each item, give a brief description and/or example of how you put these skills into practice regularly or have used them in the past.
2. Incorporate them into your descriptions of previous work experiences.
This is a good way of showing rather than telling. In your work experience section, where you’ll list and provide details of the various professional positions you’ve held over the course of your career, include the various facilitation skills you’ve used in the different roles in the bullet points. For example, you explain how planning is a huge part of your job as a marketing manager — planning meetings, planning projects and so on. If you can, add concrete figures and data to back up your experiences and skills.
3. Discuss them in your cover letter.
Your cover letter is another good place to discuss your facilitation skills. The whole purpose of your cover letter is to provide further insight into your experiences and qualifications and tell your career story. In it, you can, in a way, demonstrate how you’ve utilized your facilitation skills in real life.
Pay attention to the job description so you can gear your cover letter toward what the organization is looking for in a candidate. If they mention specific facilitation skills you have, mention them in both your cover letter and resume. This will help your application pass the ATS test.
4. Highlight them in job interviews.
Nothing is off the table when it comes to demonstrating your facilitating skills, and that includes interviews. You can underscore them by putting them into practice — have your supporting materials prepared and well-organized, show up early, listen and respond to what the interviewer has to say, and practice empathy.
You can also discuss them in response to questions the interviewer asks you. For example, you could use them as examples to illustrate your work history and abilities.
5. Use concrete examples.
No matter where and how you include your facilitation skills in your job application or during the interview process, be sure to use plenty of concrete examples to support your experience, knowledge and capabilities. This will allow you to effectively illustrate your abilities and work experience and demonstrate how you’ve made use of your facilitation skills in the past — and could continue to utilize them in the future, in the role you hope to land.