The role of a facilitator

Most people have a general idea of what a facilitator does. They know that with a facilitator there will be an agenda, and usually some flipcharts are involved.

However, there is also a general misconception that the facilitator "leads" the group. This is definitely not what a facilitator should be doing, so let me repeat this: the facilitator does not lead the group!

A facilitator is a guide. It is the group that decides what they want to achieve from the meeting, it is the group that generates the ideas, and it is the group that makes the decisions.

Yes, the facilitator may help create the agenda, but it should be an agenda created from action items and ideas generated by the group.

The value of a facilitator is that they are the one neutral party at the table that makes sure that every voice is heard, that the decisions and action items are truly group decisions, and that the group continues to move forward instead of getting stuck in a spin cycle of discussions that they have already had.

Not all meetings need a facilitator. For example, a meeting that has a designated leader who is responsible for all the decisions and just needs to give information in a group setting does not need a facilitator. But if a group is truly trying to achieve their goals as a unit versus being lead by an individual, a neutral facilitator is an essential tool to accomplishing this.

Beware the group member that offers to facilitate the group in addition to being a participant. Even the most well intentioned person will find it difficult to be a neutral guide to the group. The result can be meetings where participants feel increasingly superfluous and frustrated, the group has trouble moving forward, and meetings start getting longer yet less efficient. If this describes the meetings that you are attending, the lack of a neutral facilitator may be the reason.

Karen Bolda, M.A., is a meeting facilitator and professional development trainer. She's lived in Ashland for 13 years where she operates her own consulting business. Visit her Web site at or contact her at

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