If you have an interest in hosting events you probably have come accross "The Art of Gathering" by Priya Parker. An amazing gathering (pun intended) of learnings and tips to host the most impactful events.
In her book Priya covers many topics related to the skills needed for hosting events, meetings and all kinds of group settings. We will focus here on the Host part, or as we like to call it, the facilitator.
What Parker teaches us is that being a good facilitator is an intricate dosage of leadership, authority, compassion and empathy.
CHILL IS SELFISHNESS DISGUISED AS KINDNESS
Parker writes. A good host will focus on the group and the event rather than worry about how they are perceived by the guests. Sometimes, by wanting to appear a certain way (in that case, relaxed and nonchalent) we make it personal. Letting go of the leadership role we decided to take on to appear "chill" and none authoritarian, letting everyone do what they want, opens the door for anyone else to take on that role.
"When you abdicate leadership you do not eradicate power, you just hand the opportunity to take charge to someone else. "
You commited to facilitating this event. Take your team through it, beginning to end. They will be grateful that you did in the end.
Once again, you are running this event with the team's sake at hand. You have to accept that this will sometimes come with unpleasant consequences. Anyone in a position of authority will at times be the target of complaints or frustration. That is the risk one must be willing to take to give the team the best experience possible.
According to Parker the facilitator has three main roles:
protecting the participants from anyone trying to break the "rules" (from being late to taking up too much space and not letting anyone express themselves for example...)
Equalising the participants : This is a very interesting one applied to the team context. In any social situation and probably even more in a work environement, there will be some kind of hierarchy, even if it is mostly imangined, some people will approach the gathering with status in mind, which will impact their behaviour and overall experience. It is the role of the facilitator to create an environment where these things are forgotten and the focus is elsewhere.
Connect the participants: We have all been there, networking is tough and sometimes very awkward. It is the facilitator role to push beyond the need of safety and comfort and be the connector between the participants.
However, it is essential to understand that not everything can be controlled by exxess of authority. There is always a risk factor, we cannot control everything no matter how much we plan. It is about knowing when to be firm and when to let go.
LEAD BY EXAMPLE
We know that to build trust, vulnerability is key.
It is essential for the facilitator to truly connect with the team and establish a relationship of trust to accept to put themselves on the spot, to go through the experience. By staying on the side simply observing they put themselves in the position of the observor/judge which can be counter productive and have people hold back.
FEEL THE 'ROOM'
Having a plan is key. But that does not mean you have to stick to a roadmap when the participants clearly are needing to explore another path.
The facilitator has to be attentive to people's cues, verbal or none verbal, their needs, their personalities and their boundaries.
For some, simply attending a group event is a massive step while others will want to dive very deep. The facilitator needs to know when to push and when to let go.
They issue "an invitation to intimacy, but depth is a complete choice".
To conclude, facilitating is a full time role that demands a lot hard and soft skills. Some people are born facilitators, others become great by doing. It is a role one can chose to take on or decide to outsource and fully experience the journey as part of the team.