There are major differences when it comes to chairing and facilitating a meeting or program. If we understand and focus on these distinctions, and stay on track with the initial process, it enhances the success of any program.
Chairing a meeting assumes the authority of control is with the chairperson. The chairperson drives the agenda that is set out to usually gain consensus to a desired goal or outcome.
Facilitating, on the other hand indicates relative informality with the focus being on communication, problem-solving, planning or leading the group towards decision-making.
The major emphasis on facilitating has to be placed on active and creative participation of group members. The facilitator is not necessarily the focus of authority but has the task of assisting the group achieve an objective.
A facilitator should start the meeting with an initial statement that sets the desired tone for the meeting. The facilitator has to be seen to be impartial and avoid talking too much and getting personally involved in discussions amongst the group.
The goal of facilitation is to stick to the agenda and keep the objective(s) in mind. They have to keep the discussion focused on key issues and stop digressions, but allow flexibility within the agenda items for participants to express themselves. A successful environment encourages wide participation by allowing information and opinions to be aired openly and in a safe atmosphere.
A facilitator can create this by actively listening to each member of the group and encouraging participation, but constantly being focused on the desired outcomes.
Another crucial point is to clarify and elaborate when it’s needed and to creatively test for consensus with the group.
The facilitator has to understand and create awareness in the group that people come with their personal preoccupations and feelings as well as in interest in the subject at hand. By creating a sense of involvement and empowerment, individuals will believe that the decisions are their decisions and that they are able to do what needs to be done.
A facilitator accepts responsibility to help the group accomplish a common task, to move through the agenda in the time available and to help the group make necessary decisions and plans for implementation.
One major point to be aware of is that the facilitator makes no decisions for the group, but suggests ways that will help the group to move forward. They work in such a way that the individuals at the meeting are aware that they are in charge, that it is their business that is being conducted, and that each person has a role to play.
It is important to emphasize that the responsibility of the facilitator is to the group and its work rather than to the individuals within the group.