Any manager finds himself one time or another confronted with the same dilemma: how to get the best from the employed human resources, so that conflicts are smoothed and the employees are able to perform as efficiently as possible. Roger Schwartz treats exactly this subject in his book "The skilled facilitator," a book which comes to meet the demands of managers confronted with these problems.
We first need to understand who a facilitator is and what his role may be. As such, a facilitator is "a person who is acceptable to all members of the group, substantively neutral, and has no decision-making authority intervenes to help a group improve the way it identifies and solves problems and makes decisions, in order to increase the group's effectiveness." From this definition, we are able to underline several characteristics of the group facilitator.
First of all, he has no decision- making authority. This may mean that he is either an outside employee who is hired for this sole project and for the sole goal of working with the group or that he is from another department. In any case, it is important to notice that he has no decision- making authority, because this means he will be easier accepted by the group and that he may be considered neutral (as the definition points out).
Second of all, the role of the facilitator: to increase the group effectiveness. This can take any form, from solving different conflicts that may arise in the group to solving problems and making decisions (even if the facilitator is not actually a decision- maker).
The initial choice of the facilitator needs to take into consideration these separate elements.
It is important to decrease the facilitator's impact on the group gradually, so that the group may evolve and work in the future without him. Indeed, the group should not be totally dependent on the facilitator and this is something we can apply to any leader.
Any corporation group leader needs to remember that the force of the company is not in a sole person (be him the facilitator or the leader), but in a group of persons. As such, a leader will organize and coordinate, but he should take the necessary precautions for the group to be able to function when he is not there to coordinate the activity. We should consider the fact that a group leader may be relocated elsewhere or that he may leave the company. It is important at that time, for the group to be able to carry on efficiently and not lose its effectiveness.
As such, there are two things that need to be underlined here. The first one refers to the fact that a group should never fully depend on a leader and that it should be able to operate without him. The second him, somewhat related, is the decreasing dependence on a leader or a facilitator, a point on which Roger Schwarz insists as well.
One of the very important points that a leader needs to take into consideration is the way he chooses to treat group elements. Let's discuss this for a while. A group is formed of several individuals, each having a different opinion, a different creed or a different way of action. It is wrong to assume that one opinion or idea goes for everybody in that group. As leaders, one should try to hear as many or all point-of-views and listen to all opinions. One never knows where the best one may come from and may discover that the silent person who never likes to share ideas will come up with something great.
In an excellent article on the subject of working with groups, Sterling Newberry writes "I catch myself trying to protect myself and others from embarrassment by easing into a difficult subject with gently leading questions, by proposing courses of action or asking the gentle, open ended questions about other people's ideas without stating my own ideas or explaining my reasoning clearly, or by acting less consciously than I would like on theories of how the group should act to be more effective that go against what I say I believe in."
We are all quite familiar with moments of embarrassments, when we made a wrong assumption and it also may be the case of a leader, when he unconsciously protects himself from his group and form "difficult feelings."