, I have worked with small groups that have gathered to undertake work that would be impossible for one person to do alone. These groups have generally focused on four areas: professional training using a seminar format, group psychotherapy, consultation groups and didactic anger management classes.In most of these situations, I have been asked to act as facilitator or trainer. In the seminar groups, I am clearly the trainer. In the other formats, I am the facilitator who assists the group in gaining from the unique experience of learning and sharing in a group.In French, the word facile means “easy.” It is the aim of facilitators to make the work of a group easy. This involves coming up with a plan and process that will help participants accomplish their goals. In all of the groups in which I have participated, I have found it useful to provide participant workbooks with an outline and, when possible, ancillary videos and other visual learning material. Facilitation involves helping people co-operate and act collectively. When a group works together in this way, they experience many benefits, including:
- Synergy: The energy or motivation to work on the task is better or higher than working on the same task in isolation.
- Positive outcomes: By using the collected experiences of many individuals, the quality of what is produced is higher than if it had been attempted by one person.
- Broader impact: Each person in the group interacts with others outside the group, broadening the impact of the work.
- Greater resources: The individuals in a group can pool their knowledge, information, personal experiences, and other resources to help the collective do its work.
In this article, I will share some suggestions that may help you strengthen your group facilitation skills relative to anger management, stress management, communication and emotional intelligence.
Prior to the Meeting
Effective facilitation involves 80 percent preparation and 20 percent presentation. Facilitators should make themselves aware of any factors that may hinder or help the group’s work. Make sure to review the material to be discussed and establish continuity between sessions. Be thorough, using what I call the “three p’s for planning”: participants, purpose, and process. Find out as much as possible about participants (those who will be attending) and the results of their assessments. Ask questions and learn as much as you can from the facilitator who conducted the assessment. Remind the participants as each session that the purpose of the program is to teach skills to enhance their skills in recognizing and managing anger, stress, communication, emotional intelligence and emotional intelligence.As you develop this statement, keep in mind that groups often establish unrealistic goals for themselves, only to be mired in the reality of their circumstances. Realistic goals are those based on the nature of the task, the number of participants, and the time available. Achieving practical plans will enable groups to experience a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that can give them the motivation they need to complete their task. (That is why it is important for facilitators to remember that the work is theirs, not ours. They will be responsible for that work after they have completed the required number of sessions.As you prepare to work with your group, remember that every group deserves your unconditional respect and love. This is the spiritual side of all small group facilitation. Envision success for the group even before meeting them. If you do this, you are more likely to be effective in helping the group develop or enhance skills in managing anger, stress, assertive communication and increasing emotional intelligence.
At the Start of the Meeting
Plan to begin your meeting with a welcome, a goal statement, an explanation of the agenda, and group introductions. New members should be introduced last and asked to share their control log and assessment summary as well. Old members should be asked to summarize their experience in the group and further goals during their attendance.It is extremely useful to have each person say something within the first 10 percent of your time together. This helps each participant find her or his voice in the group. Short activities with this goal are known as climate setters, icebreakers, and warm-ups. A start-up activity can relate directly to the task or generate information about group members’ lives outside the group. I often begin by referring to the goal and agenda of the group and then ask everyone to introduce themselves briefly with their name and one reason they are participating in the program. Be sure to clarify roles at the beginning of any meeting, including the expectations of the facilitator’s role compared with that of participants. Have participants answer these three questions:
- What are your expectations of yourself?
- What are your expectations of other group members?
- What are your expectations of the group facilitator?
Discussing these questions will help surface realistic perceptions of your role as a facilitator and increase the likelihood of group ownership of the task. Ask members to share their thoughts in small groups of three or four and to prioritize two or three key expectations for the different roles. This activity will lead to a series of statements that can help the group to arrive at a mutual understanding of the facilitator as process guide and participants as owners and contributors to the task. Mutually agreed-upon statements of roles can be posted and used as a reference throughout the life of the group. Check in on group agreements regularly. This will ensure smooth functioning for the facilitator and the group.
Structuring the Meeting
After the group has completed its introductions, the facilitator presents a sequence of activities and discussions, which are contained in the client, work books. To the extent possible, material in the client workbook should be personalized to those in attendance.
The Importance of Ancillary Material for Visual Learners
It is essential to use the Contrasting Wheels of Behavior as well as the related DVDs and other visual material when conducting anger management groups.
Keeping the Group on Track
One of the major tasks of the facilitator is to keep the group focused on the task of the group and the material in the client workbooks. It is critical to deter the group from unrelated material. This is easy to day by simply stating, “Our discussion has to remain on the topics in the workbook.
Often, people who want to improve their facilitation skills identify problem behaviors displayed by participants. They want to learn how to deal with the behaviors so those behaviors no longer hinder the group. I hesitate to spend time thinking about what to do when things go wrong in a group. I believe if we do a good job of staying with the topics in the workbooks, preparing and planning, we greatly increase the likelihood that people will stay on track. Your own enthusiasm for knowing the task and the process, and your confidence that the group will be effective in achieving this task, is highly infectious. Doubt about whether participants can do it or work together co-operatively can have self-fulfilling prophecy tendencies, and is highly contagious. Be enthusiastic about the task and the group’s capacity to work well together.
Closing the Meeting
The closure of a meeting is a time to evaluate what has happened, share learning’s, express appreciation, and announce the lesson for the next session. Allow 10 minutes of your time together for closure.
George Anderson, MSW, BCD, CAMF, CEAP
Diplomate, American Association of Anger Management Providers