The 3 Essential Roles in Every Successful Group

You don’t need to learn something new.

You already have the skills you need to effectively lead a group. You know the content and have countless hours of experience. You know your stuff.

Yet, sometimes, facilitation doesn’t go as well as you hoped. Maybe there was a weird vibe in the room and you didn’t handle it well. Maybe people seemed disinterested. Maybe you didn’t get through all the content. Something was “off.”

What happened?

Leading a group isn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario — you know that, but sometimes it’s easy to forget to look at each dynamic at play. To best create positive learning environments, we don’t necessarily have to learn new things — we just have to remember the key players involved and recognise their role in the learning experience.

Player #1: The Facilitator

We must first recognise our own contributions to the learning environment. The facilitator is unique because we play a role in leading the group and we’re a person with our own issues that affect how we lead. Here’s what to look for in yourself.

The Role

Think about your role as a facilitator of learning. We help groups learn the skills they need to have better conversations, stronger influence, and a healthier work environment. Our job is to create a learning space to make that happen. As a facilitator, we guide the group’s learning, focusing on the process as well as the content. We want to make learning easy — which means we need to create an environment where learning can occur.

We want people to feel the freedom to explore, push, and question. We want to stimulate discussion by asking key questions and illustrating concepts. We want the group to talk to each other, so we become catalysts for conversation amongst the group members.

While we facilitate, we also must model the principles and skills we’re teaching. They’re watching us! As we guide, our group needs to see the content in action. It’s important to ask yourself, “How am I using these skills? Am I modeling the skills I want to see in action?”

As facilitators, we are guides, catalysts, and models — we are NOT the person with all the answers. You don’t have to be the authority on the subject. You don’t have to be their teacher. Stay in the facilitator role by avoiding long lectures and helping your group process the material without voicing your opinion on it. You are there to facilitate their learning, not be the ultimate expert.

The Self

As we lead groups, we must also look at our self. Analysing your self is a little more difficult than analysing your role… but equally necessary.

What are your own issues and needs? Perhaps you have a need to be right, liked, or in charge. Maybe you want people to think you’re great. You want to be considered the expert. You want people to look up to you.

None of these are bad — it’s natural to want to be liked and respected! But we have to recognise when our needs start to get in the way of the group’s work. Once we’re aware of our own needs and issues, we can manage them.

How? Start by being honest with yourself. Then, consider how to keep your issues and needs in check. Ask yourself: “What do I really want? Am I trying to be the greatest facilitator they’ve ever seen, or do I want them to really learn some skills that can change their lives for good?”

We also have to challenge our own comfort zones. We’ve all been in situations where we’re asked a challenging question, we’re put on the spot, or we notice some really uncomfortable issues happening in the group. Recognising your own comfort zone helps you navigate these difficult moments.

How do you handle these times? Do you go to silence or violence? Do you avoid conflict or face it head on? Once you find your patterns, look for ways to step out of your comfort zone in service of the group. Think about, “How can I challenge my own self so I can better serve the group?”

We also must be authentic with our successes and failures. Sometimes these are the great stories where we tell about our epic failures or successes. But have to be honest in the moment too. Maybe we miss an opportunity, don’t do the best job explaining, or blurt out something we shouldn’t. In these moments, how do we address our shortcomings and model authenticity?

When you really understand your self, you’ll stop getting in the way of the group and instead lead them towards reaching their learning potential.

Player #2: The Group

The second player is the group itself. Remember what you know about group development. Even in a short seminar, these communication theories unfold.

In a few hours, you may see a group go through the stages of Tuckman’s Theory of Group Development — forming, storming, norming, performing. Recognise how your group progresses through these stages. The stages might look a little different for each group, but they still happen.

When we recognise these theories of group development in action, we realise we can’t push people too fast. People have to form and acclimate themselves to the group before they’re willing to change.

We also can look at ways to accelerate these stages to accommodate our time constraints. How can you speed up the stages of group development in your 4-, 8-, or 12-hour training to get them to the place where they are better able to learn and perform?

Maybe you encourage the storming phase so the group realises it’s okay to disagree. Then, you manage that disagreement so they can get to the place of performance as a learning community.

When we remember to look for the group development process, we can better observe what’s happening in the group. We start to tune into the energy. We look for nonverbal and verbal nuances that indicate what stage they’re in. We notice patterns.

Observing through the lens of group development also helps us know when to intervene in a situation. Maybe you wonder, “Is this the storming phase they need in order to progress to the norming phase, or is this person disrupting the group?”

Before you intervene, ask yourself:

  • Is intervening necessary in this situation?
  • What’s the purpose of this intervention?
  • Why am I intervening?

Sometimes, we’re tempted to intervene because something is bothering us. But if you’re the only one irritated and it’s not interfering with the group, you need to reevaluate before you step in. If you’re looking to intervene, make sure you know whose needs you’re serving. And when it’s time to step in, use and model the skills you know so well. Intervene in a way that moves the group towards its goal. That’s why you’re there.

Sometimes it’s hard to step in and address those issues. But when you think about what you’re there to do long-term, it helps make your next steps clear.

Player #3: The Content

As we consider ourselves and the group, we have to think about how to best relay the content and material. We must choose how to manage the content in order to achieve the desired outcome.

You know your material — now it’s time to think about how it best suits the audience. Tailor it to the audience’s needs. As you prepare, think about the kinds of participants are coming to your training and consider how to incorporate what you know about their organisational culture into the content.

Consider your time constraints. How can you best teach the material and allow enough time for practise and integration?

As you customise your material, make sure there’s a purpose behind the strategy. You’re aiming to best lead the group to new learning — every change should move you closer toward that goal.

You don’t have to learn anything new to better lead groups. But you do have to remember the things you already know in order to teach others something new. When you remember the three key players in any training situation, you’ll set yourself up to facilitate the group so they learn the skills they need for a healthier work environment.

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