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When a person assumes leadership in the 1990s, whether it is as a manager, APICS chapter president, or work project team leader, to be successful that person clearly must be equipped with the skills to fa­cilitate a team. This is the age of teamwork and cooperation, and it requires a new kind of leader with a different skill set than was needed 10 or 20 years ago. There are different questions posed for leaders today: How can I ensure participation by everyone on the team? What is the best way to keep the meetings flowing and productive? What can I do with problem team members? How do I resolve conflicts and still keep the team intact? What can I do to motivate the team and instill ownership? What is my role as leader?

Empowering and guiding the team has become crucial to the long-term success of any business. Today an important measurement for leaders is their ability to facilitate a group of people to work together as a team and successfully accomplish their task. What will separate a good leader from a great leader will be the understanding and develop­ment of his or her facilitation skills.

CHARACTERISTICS OF EFFECTIVE FACILITATORS

A positive and enthusiastic attitude: First and foremost, the facilita­tor should be a model for the group in terms of attitude. The facilitator's confidence in the team becomes the team's confidence in themselves. When the team members look at the facilitator they should see some­one who is positive, enthusiastic, skilled, and capable of helping the team be successful. The facilitator sets the tone for the team's attitude about who they are and what they feel they can accomplish. This posi­tive, can-do-no-matter-what kind of attitude motivates the whole team to look forward to working together to accomplish their goals.

The desire to serve and help others: A sincere desire to help oth­ers causes a certain kind of behavior to be lived out in a person. This kind of desire is particularly important for a facilitator who needs to shift the focus from taking care of his or her own needs to that of guid­ing the team. If a person has a sincere desire to help a group succeed, looking for methods to do that effectively will be a natural consequence. This desire to serve is seen by the team as a positive attribute and will make people willing to empower the facilitator to do his or her job more effectively.

Assertiveness: Facilitators are often called upon to intervene or take control of the group and guide it back to a productive path. This takes a certain kind of assertiveness and skill. If the facilitator is seen by the team as passive, he or she will have little or no influence in guiding the group. The group, feeling left without leadership, will take a course set toward chaos. At the other extreme is the facilitator who is aggressive or pushy. This type of behavior makes the facilitator seem uncompromising and self-serving and will become destructive for the team. Aggressive behavior will discourage the free exchange of ideas and will defeat all the reasons the team is together in the first place. Facilitator assertiveness means intervening with respect to help the group be successful.

The team members expect the facilitator to do their job with the team and will see an assertive facilitator as a partner in their helping them work together.
Sensitive to others' needs: Part of the facilitator's function is to ensure that all the team members participate in the process without getting hurt. In a team meeting where there is a free exchange of ideas, conflicts will happen. At times a member may be left out of a conver­sation or may feel that no one is listening to them. People may be criticized (instead of ideas). These kinds of things can negatively ef­fect the cohesiveness of the team. Facilitators must have a constant sensitivity to these kinds of people issues. They must be watching the
interactions and feelings of the team members. When a member has been wronged in some way, it is the facilitator's responsibility to see it and to resolve it in a positive way.

Patience: Anyone who has ever worked with a team knows that things do not always go as smoothly as you would like and team mem­bers do not always exhibit the kind of perfect behavior you want. Teams (and team members) by their very nature are always moving, chang­ing, learning, and developing. At times they do not seem to be moving, changing, learning, or developing fast enough. At times it may seem as if there is little or no progress at all. This takes a great deal of patience by the facilitator who probably feels responsible for as well as part of the problem. The facilitator needs to be patient with the development of the team, the progress of the project, and with themselves. Team­work is not an exact science and things are not always going to go according to plan. Patience is an important characteristic for the facili­tator to help keep everything in perspective.

A sense of humor: There is not enough that can be said about hav­ing a sense of humor when working with teams. If the team is not having fun, it is doing something wrong. Working together should be enjoyable. There will be so many times that things are not going to go as the team expected. The ability to laugh together at those times will go a long way in keeping the team productive. The facilitator can help set the tone for this important aspect of teamwork. The team should be serious about the contribution they are making to the organization, but have a good time getting there. Laughter stimulates the mind and frees the soul to dream—everything that we want from teams. A good facili­tator effectively uses humor to energize the team and provide an atmo­sphere where people feel free to give ideas and make mistakes.

To Be Continued


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