What Kind of Facilitator Are You? - Improving Leadership

What Kind of Facilitator Are You?


Have you ever found yourself sitting in a meeting, wondering when you can get back to doing real work? Maybe you’re one of the 73% of meeting attendees that brings other work with you. Or are you part of the 39% that is asleep?

While meetings are a necessary part of collaborating with others, they don’t have to be ineffective. A successful facilitator can help direct the conversation to ensure that the end result is valuable.

One of the biggest factors that determines the success of a facilitator is the particular style that they use. Mismatches in facilitation techniques and meeting objectives are a common reason for problems. If their style matches the needs of the meeting well, they will likely be successful.

Here are four common facilitation styles and how to use them successfully.


The primary goal of a salesman facilitator is to convince the attendees of something. They typically have a predetermined outcome or personal agenda that is driving their actions. In this case, the facilitator is attempting to guide the team to a particular conclusion or action, without directly ordering it.

This technique is best used when you need to get the buy-in of leaders or stakeholders for a particular effort. They are not being asked to be active team members, so much as understand the effort and support it with resources or actions.

To be successful in this approach, you should use a very well planned agenda. It is almost like a sales pitch or presentation, but with very focused and intentional questions and discussion points that lead the team from one thought to the next. The idea is to guide their thinking and answer their questions along the way so that they come to the desired conclusion on their own.

I do have one word of caution for anyone using this technique. It is the one that I see misapplied most often. If you find yourself using this technique regularly, there is a good chance that you are forcing your ideas on others, rather than truly engaging your team. Over time, your team may begin to see you as an insincere leader who does not really value their thoughts and opinions.


Meetings with a learner for a facilitator are designed for gathering input. They are conducted more like a focus group, with the leader asking questions to help further their knowledge on a particular topic. The primary goal is to educate or inform the facilitator or other individuals on the team about a particular topic.

Examples could include a senior leader learning about the challenges faced by front-line staff or information gathering in preparation for a problem-solving or improvement effort.

In these cases, the conversation should be fairly open and free-flowing. The facilitator needs to have a feel for what information is important and what is not. There will also be times that the facilitator needs to push the team to explore topics more deeply through open-ended questions. Frequent checks for understanding are also helpful.


Some meetings are complicated or emotional enough that what they really need is a referee. Someone to keep the conversation on-topic and productive. This type of facilitator is skilled at guiding a tough crowd to the desired end goal.

This usually requires a facilitator that is confident and willing to take control when necessary. They need to be able to quickly recognize when the conversation is getting off track or becoming unproductive and respond accordingly. Some techniques that are useful in these situations are the use of a parking lot for off topic thoughts, restating thoughts in factual, non-biased ways, and clearly stating and enforcing meeting ground rules.

Often, in situations requiring a referee-type facilitator, it is a good idea to consider the use of a third party. Someone who has no skin in the game will have an easier time avoiding the politics or rabbit holes that can sink a meeting.


The teaching facilitator is similar to the salesman, but with less of an agenda. The goal is to lead a group to explore certain thoughts or ideas and increase understanding. It may include a desired lesson to be learned, but there is not a specific call to action. Think college professor.

In these meetings, the facilitator can use scenarios, discussion questions, or group challenges to encourage the team to think about the desired topic. The Socratic method can be used to encourage participants to explain their thinking and logic so that everyone can benefit. It is more about challenging the thinking of others in specific ways than it is about lecturing.

This method is particularly useful for training exercises or when learning and development is the primary goal.

Which Method Should You Use?

When deciding which of these facilitation techniques is the most useful, start by focusing on your goal. What are you trying to accomplish? Are you trying to gain buy-in for an idea or guide a tough crowd to a decision? Are you trying to gather information or analyze a particular situation? The goal of your meeting should guide you to the type of facilitator you need.

If you are the facilitator, you should constantly ask yourself if your approach is helping you achieve the goal for your meeting.

Most people have a preferred facilitation style, but that style won’t always match their goal for a particular meeting. Be aware of your natural tendencies to make sure you don’t get off-track. If needed, get a third-party to facilitate if you can’t manage a particular style.

Before your next team meeting, ask yourself these questions to ensure a productive use of time:

  • What is my goal for this meeting?

  • What facilitation style will help us accomplish this goal?

  • Who is the best person to facilitate in this style?

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Justin Self

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