Selecting and Training Facilitators

Organized Change was instrumental in helping Wavecom (a French-based telecommunications company) identify and solve internal tensions hindering organizational growth. In a few weeks Organized Change brought solutions to bring clarity.

David Chaudron, PhD The following section, I admit, is not based on large-scale studies of successful and unsuccessful facilitators. Instead, it is based on the experience of training many facilitators from different organizations, helping them in their projects, and observing their effectiveness.

When people usually talk about what they look for in facilitators, they usually talk about what core group skills a good facilitator needs to have. However, it has been my experience that other factors beside skill is important. Among these are political position/objectivity, personal characteristics, education, and specialized knowledge required by the groups mentioned above. As you might guess, political position/objectivity is the hardest to acquire; personal characteristics are easier to change, and skills and knowledge the easiest.

Political position/objectivity and reputation

Facilitators must be perceived as neutral, well-liked individuals. The many competing groups in an organization must believe that the facilitator will actively listen and sympathize with them, and keep private confidential information. Siding with a power block diminishes the effectiveness of the facilitator. This perception of neutrality can be increased by the facilitator reporting to the individual with the greatest formal power in the organization. If s/he has a reputation for facilitating successful projects, all the better. If the facilitator has a reputation for "sliding by", being a ne'er do well, or having the usefulness of cotton candy, all the worse.

Personal characteristics

This neutrality doesn't mean that the facilitator have the consistency of milk toast, unable and unwilling of making a stand. A facilitator must have an unusual blend of flexibility and firmness. Some facilitators are so rigid and feel that "process is all" that they ignore the need that a group accomplish something. On the other hand, some facilitators are so "wish-washy" that they do not openly deal with conflict, and allow powerful group members to bully them. A closely related characteristic is being structured enough to assure follow-up of group actions, while being "wild & crazy" during brainstorming sessions.

Another useful personal characteristic is assertiveness. Communicating unwelcome news in a clear, concise manner, and confronting inappropriate behavior is not something many do easily. We often remain quiet, or say something vague. Others of us become aggressive, unduly antagonizing the receiver with inflammatory information.

A third useful personal characteristic is excitement and interest in helping people grow and develop by achieving good results for themselves and the organization. Taken to one extreme, facilitators may seek to change project groups into personal growth groups. Taken to another, a group would complete a project, but without joy or growth.


Facilitators should have the reading and writing skills that high school (should) bring. One feature to look for, however, is that a potential facilitator is knowledge hungry. This learning includes seminars, classes at community colleges, and internal training, as well as academic education. What classes a potential facilitator matters less than the motivation to improve oneself.


I have divided this skills section into two categories: core skills that all facilitators should have, and specialized knowledge that some groups may need. These core skills are similar to the critical behaviors that facilitators in one study identify as important:

Core skills and knowledge

active listening, encouraging open communication

group dynamics

meeting management

problem solving

knowledge of costs of quality, "chain of customers" concepts, role of measurement

project management

political sensitivity and tact

Supplementary, specialized knowledge

team building

one-on-one coaching

organizational development

survey and interview techniques

statistical process control, quality function deployment, experimentation

This division into core and specialized skills allows organizations to rate facilitators in essential competencies, and allows them to develop by gaining additional skills. Organizations could reward facilitators when they learn and excel at these skills by increases in pay or grade level.

Questions to answer before using facilitators

Some organizations do not plan their implementation of Total Quality in much detail. At best, some organizations plan the training of project teams without much consideration for the larger strategic issues, such as how to change reward systems, restructure, or implement quality function deployment. Likewise, their development of facilitators can also lack detail. Listed below are some questions organizations should answer before they select and train facilitators.

Who and what determines the need for a facilitator?

Will this be a part-time or full-time position? Is this an assignment, a change in job title or a requisition to be filled?

What is the career path of the position?

Who will the facilitator report to short- and long- term?

How will facilitators be selected? With what criteria?

How will the training needs of the facilitators be established? What training will be provided? Who will train them, and with what materials? Are they to be trained individually, on an as-needed basis, or en masse?

What will be the measures of a facilitators success? How will this be incorporated into the person's performance review?

What steps does the facilitator use when first working with a group?

The questions listed above are also good ones to ask your boss when he politely informs you that you are now a facilitator.