6 things you should know in order to pick an awesome facilitator

Psychological research shows that first impressions last for months, and won’t change unless there’s a piece of big contradictory evidence about the individual you met. Yikes! That has many implications for learning & development professionals. We’d probably need a book to go through all of them. But right now we picked the one we think is probably the most important: your colleagues meeting the training facilitator you pick. 

People either come to training sessions with the willingness to learn and explore, or are sent by someone else, frustrated that you’re wasting  hours of their time. Your job is to deliver on the expectations of the former, and change the latter’s mind. Why? Because 10 people’s perceptions might affect your work in the long term.

How picking the wrong facilitator could harm you

Your internal clients might stop trusting your expertise

If one of your teammates comes back from a training session disappointed and talking trash about the experience and the facilitator, their impression might influence their colleagues and their managers.

Moreover, the training won’t be the only one stuck in people’s minds as low quality. It will also extend to those who organized the training and their expertise. Oh, by the way, that’s you. How likely do you think people will be to join a future learning experience built by you after an experience like that? My guess is not likely.

If we do the math, 10 participants can influence the opinion of at least 50 people. 50 people who were most likely already hard to convince to take time out of their workday to learn. Not fun!

Your budget will seem thrown out the window

If you’re in a good place, your organization is trusting you with a learning budget. But their trust only comes with the expectation of return on investment. Nobody just gives you money to spend because they like you. Your job is to offer your best effort to deliver on those expectations.

If you pick the wrong facilitator, and the training you organize turns out to be a bad experience because of it, you can kiss your budget goodbye.. You will have to take responsibility for the failure and maybe even coordinate another training session with the same goal a s the first, but this time with some other, more fit facilitator. Oh, this means, of course, higher costs.

Participants might pick the wrong behaviors and ideas

Let’s say the perception of the training is not that bad, but the concepts and attitudes explored are not aligned with how you do things in your organization. After leaving the training room or the Zoom call, people get back to their environment, where they spend most of the time. 

Two bad things might happen afterward:

  1. People will notice the difference between what you’re teaching and how you do things and be frustrated;
  2. Participants will pick up on habits you might not want in your organization.

Neither of them are fun. 

These are just a few ways in which a bad facilitator can harm you and your organization. But have no fear for there are tactics to avoid these worst-case scenarios, and we’ll be exploring them from this point forward.

6 things to look for in any facilitator

A facilitators’ skill matrix

The first thing you should know about a facilitator is what they know, what are their skills, and how they can help you? Even after doing your due diligence, it’s difficult to pick one facilitator. This happens because you have no benchmark against which to compare each facilitator profile. To help you out, we wrote down 10 characteristics of a good facilitator:

CharacteristicDescription
Active learnersAre up to date with the latest in-class or digital facilitation trends;Are curious about themselves, your challenges, and history;Won’t back down in front of challenges;Have a track record of experimentation and learning from mistakes.
Active listenersThey focus on what you are saying by looking you in the eyes;They rephrase your ideas to make sure they understand;They sit still while you present your ideas and challenges, letting you finish what you have to say.
Highly skilled in communicationThey communicate their ideas in a structured manner;They clearly explain exercises and examples;They ensure everyone is on the same page at any point in time;They help in reaching shared understanding of ideas being explored.
Very organizedThey have a clear workflow process;They work with training agendas;They meet the deadlines you set together.
AssertiveThey share their opinions without hurting your feelings;They admit to their mistakes and apologise;They ask for respect and will respect you in return;They are emotionally mature;They know how to draw limits in a diplomatic way.
Master the art of asking questionsThey have a clear debriefing process;They ask open-ended questions;They ask questions to encourage further thought, and draw perspectives from multiple participants;They use questions as a way of deep diving into a problem and breaking it into smaller pieces.
Know how to establish a psychologically safe environmentCreate opportunities for everyone to participate;Explore all ideas and perspectives equally;Encourage empathy and discourage people from being dismissive.
Can manage the group decision processThey make sure there’s a common understanding of the decision being made;They encourage participants to speak up;They poll everyone for agreement on a proposed solution;
Can turn conflicts into productive discussionsCan find common ground and get cooperation with minimum noise. Rapidly spot conflicts and manage them as learning opportunities without shutting people off;
Can manage their biasesThey are aware of their biases;They have systems in place to avoid their biases in a training session.

Spotting a good facilitator

Still, the decision-making process shouldn’t only involve how skilled a facilitator is. There are other things you can look for, that can confirm or deny they can make a good partner.

Are they going beyond your brief?

No matter how good of a job you’re doing at writing and explaining your brief, there are things that go beyond it that should be explained. How does your company work in general? How would you describe the target audience? What could be behavior change roadblocks after the training session is done?

A good facilitator will show interest in these details. You want someone who  is asking questions and  wants to meet with some other people before delivering the session.

Do they have a personal understanding of your business principles?

Each organization is different in some way or another. But some are so different that people just can’t adjust to such a distinct way of working. Facilitators are people too. Some might be used to working with fast-growing tech start-ups and some might work better with a steadier environment. 

When you’re running first calls with facilitators, make sure you ask things about their background, mindset, and ways of doing things. Don’t make it rigid, though. Be friendly and transparent about why you’re asking such things.

Do they come up with various solutions?

There’s no one size fits all. Not in conducting surgeries, let alone approaching a training session. Some facilitators might have a curriculum developed and they might be inclined to push it. Don’t accept that. Provide feedback and ask for various solutions.

You can spot good facilitators because they are willing to receive your feedback, integrate it, and are flexible and won’t stop at the first idea.

Are they showing an interest in following up and discussing results?

Learning doesn’t end after one training session. On the contrary. Two hours on Zoom will boost awareness, but the hard job of behavior change will happen after the call ends. Your employees will need support as they go along with their life and encounter challenges.

There’s an Italian saying. Veni, Vedi, Vici. This is exactly how a good facilitator won’t be doing things. Look for a willingness to come back to you or the participants with follow-up resources and support learning transfer. An ideal facilitator will agree on doing follow-up sessions as well.

Rather than being pushy, do they show an interest in partnering up with you beyond their contract?

Every relationship needs time to grow and flourish. It will take years for a facilitator to fully understand the vibe, needs, and principles of an organization.

Good facilitators will want to meet with you just to catch-up, brainstorm, or just grab a coffee. Since they lack day-to-day interaction with potential participants, keeping in touch with you, as an L&D, is their best chance to build a relationship with your company. Some people might be pushy, calling you or sending messages over and over again. Well, that’s annoying, right? If you feel harassed, that’s a red flag. You won’t feel that with an experienced facilitator.

Wrap-up

To make your job easier, and pick between facilitators, you can work with a decision-matrix and provide scores from 0 to 5 to all facilitators you’re considering:

FactorFacilitator 1Facilitator 2Facilitator 3Facilitator 4
Has the skills we’re looking for
They show an interest in our organization beyond our brief
They’ve previously worked with look-alike companies
They have a good understanding of our mindset and principles
They came up with more than 1 solution
They showed flexibility, and integrated the feedback we gave
They proposed follow-ups
They showed a geniun interest in developing a long-term relationship
Total

Assessing a facilitator

Your personal interactions

Based on the factors mentioned above you will form your first opinion about your chosen facilitator. After signing the contract, you can still keep an eye on how your relationship is developing. Are they meeting deadlines? Do you communicate easily? Do they actively listen and understand you?

If they meet all these criteria, your next step is to gather feedback from your final customer.

Informal feedback

Take some time to ask for feedback informally. Just setting up a quick call, asking a question on Slack, Teams, or other internal communication channels you’re using, or even taking a breath of fresh air with a colleague if you’re working on-premise will help you get some honest feedback. You should be looking for the feelings people have, how they talk about the experience, the facilitator, what the best things that happened were, and whether or not everything went as expected. Keep this as informal as possible.

Using surveys

You’re probably already running follow-up surveys. D’oh! Make sure you have some questions about the facilitator as well:

  • An NPS question: How prepared was the facilitator to handle the content and discussions?
  • A deep dive into the NPS question: Why so?
  • A long-form question: Do you have any recommendations for the facilitator?

Take a close look at participants’ answers and even send over the feedback to the facilitator.

Conducting Focus Groups

If you’ve booked your facilitator for a long-term program, surveys might not be enough. Pick a percentage of your participants and run a qualitative analysis on both the experience and how they perceive the interaction with the trainer. 

Conclusion

Choosing a facilitator is not an easy job, but it’s way too important to leave it to chance. The perception of your internal clients about your learning experiences and your expertise can be affected by the wrong business partner. Using a decision matrix and following up with your colleagues through as many channels will boost your chances to work with facilitators that are right for you and your organization.

Oh, and one more thing. If you’re wondering where you can find a pool of facilitators to choose from, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.

The Learnexus Enterprise plan will help you in finding, getting to know, and hiring an extension of your team for as low as $300/ month or $3,000/ year. Moreover, it will handle worker classification to keep your hiring in compliance, payroll, and government reporting, and get the finance tasks out of your way.

Buckle up!

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