Topic 4 The role of technical people in facilitation and working with groups

As facilitators of participation and group processes, it is essential that we reflect on our role, the strategies and attitudes that must be implemented. A certain way of facilitating group work can lead to processes of empowerment and autonomy, while other practices can generate certain dependence and even demotivation of the group.

Here are some general ideas about the possible roles of group facilitation:

Functions of the facilitator of group participation processes:

  • Facilitate (resources, information, techniques, processes) and accompany (walk alongside to serve as support).
  • Stimulate the process (motivate, help choose the direction).
  • Mediate, intermediate (in intra-group conflicts or with institutions).
  • Inform and advice (to provide information, advise on possible resources, techniques, contacts).
  • Promote process autonomy.
  • Distribute responsibilities, roles and tasks.
  • Ensuring the participation of everyone in the group.

Likewise, there are some attitudes and roles that it would be convenient to avoid:

  • Guide (choose the direction).
  • Make decisions (it always has to be the group that makes them, you just have to put the tools and the climate for that to happen).
  • Be directors.
  • Choose the topics to be discussed.
  • Set group norms.

As we have seen when talking about the life of the groups, their processes are gradual and, therefore, the roles of the facilitators must also be gradual. This means that a group in its initial phase will have little capacity for autonomy, effectiveness and ability to manage conflicts. For this reason, the role of the technicians will initially be more directive and purposeful, more tasks of organization, mediation, etc. will be assumed, in order to give greater autonomy and management capacity to the group itself as its own process progresses.

Below are some guidelines on the role of the technician depending on the moment in which the group is.

  • During the baby stage, the trainer must promote mutual understanding among the participants. It is very important to tell them what is expected of them and their participation in the group and how the development of the process is planned, in terms of activities, objectives, etc. Another key aspect at the beginning is to test the expectations that the different participants have about their participation in the group, see what each of them expects, put it in common, so that the whole group knows them and from the facilitation an adjustment of expectations can be carried out. The mismatch of expectations can be a source of frustration and abandonment of the participants. At this stage it is also important to create a good climate and be very attentive to the possible difficulties of inclusion of some people in order to generate corrective and overcoming mechanisms, as well as to attend to the different speeds. The facilitator in this stage has a more managerial and purposeful role, guides the group to a great extent and resolves conflicts and situations.
  • In the infant stage, the technical staff continues to play a central role. Now it is very important to observe the interactions between people, establish cooperation dynamics, deepen the knowledge of the members. In this phase, some roles may begin to stand out, which it is important to identify in order to promote and distribute them, favouring multiple roles and leadership. Group communication is still incomplete. We have to work with the group to give it tools for work, deliberation, decision-making, conflict resolution, etc. We must continue promoting trust and group fluidity as well as generating a climate of safety for everyone.
  • In the adolescent stage, given that an affective explosion usually occurs, one of the key tasks will be to reorient the group towards the task, so that it is not forgotten and relegated to the background. You also have to be especially attentive to those people who may be staying on the periphery of the group. Thus, we must try to propose dynamics that allow us to gain efficiency and deepen the skills that have been worked on in the previous stages and develop new ones. In case of conflicts, it is time to promote group cooperation to resolve them and make people responsible for finding solutions, carefully choosing whether it is better to keep a meeting on the sidelines or address it in the large group. The role of the facilitators should be diluted a bit, move on to less managerial or purposeful roles, focusing on those elements that are more complex or conflictive. It is time for the group to acquire greater autonomy and to define its own work and its organization.
  • In the maturity stage, it is the moment in which the technicians must introduce greater complexity in the analyses and topics, more difficult tasks, more complex evaluations and try to move the group towards greater autonomy and efficiency, consolidating the learning and making it visible, supporting the work of the people or commissions that have taken on tasks, asking the pertinent questions that allow the group to consolidate its maturity. That is to say, part of the initial centrality and visibility is lost, remaining as a technical and methodological support for those issues that the group cannot solve by itself.
  • If a group or process closes, the role of the technical people would be above all to provide spaces for quality evaluation and ensure adequate emotional expression of the participants with respect to the closure of the process.One of the key functions of the technical people is to motivate participation, which must be deepened due to its relevance and its transversal nature throughout the process.The motivation of the groups and the people involved in them is an essential ingredient. Without it, the linking of people to the processes could not be generated nor would adherence to them be achieved. In other words, motivation is undoubtedly one of the keys to the success of a participation process.

To motivate participation there are some ingredients that can give us fundamental clues:

  1. Work from people’s centres of interest: the topics to work on must be chosen based on the needs and interests of the participants and not of the technicians. Of course, the facilitators can identify deficiencies in the group that should be worked on, for example, social skills or conflict resolution, but they can be worked on within the large thematic blocks chosen by the participants themselves.
  2. Demonstrate that participation changes things: it is important that the decisions we make in the groups are binding and executed, as well as making visible what has been achieved. If people feel that their participation is not decisive or useful, they lose meaning and motivation, and can lead to processes being abandoned.
  3. Demonstrate that participation is not at odds with effectiveness: to maintain motivation in the processes, it is important that they are effective, that is, that they achieve the objectives that have been set and that they manage to carry out the work necessary for it. The collective is slower, it is true, but it must also be operational if you want to maintain the motivation of the participants.