Where online discussions are vehicles of potential, facilitators* are the navigational system and the seatbelt, helping conversations stay on-topic, time-efficient and secure. Here are ten reasons why we recommend you use an external facilitator for your discussions on our platform.
Have you considered inviting a facilitator into your regular in-person meetings? Perhaps you should. Facilitators can bring focus, clarity, fluidity and harmony to a meeting that could save businesses time and money in the long run. Where they’re good for in-person meetings, they’re essential for the success of online ones. Why? The answer lies in one of the strongest benefits to anonymous online discussions: a lack of inhibition.
The absence of reserve offered by anonymous digital discussions can be a catalyst for creativity and innovation. Those who don’t normally voice their views for fear of prejudice, because they’re introverted or because they simply can’t fit a word in edgeways, are more likely to contribute on neutral platform where everyone is equally heard, but not seen.
On the flip side, not being identifiable can also lead to a lack of motivation to participate. According to a study from the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, individuals are likely to disclose more information or spend more time fleshing out their points of view if their identity is known. A facilitator circumnavigates this pitfall by keeping the conversation flowing, prompting participants to provide more details and examples to back up their ideas. An additional benefit of an online discussion is that of space and time; freedom from the confines of a physical meeting space means that more professionals from various sectors can participate in a collaboration wherever and whenever suits them.
But just like any space where many people gather to share their opinions, the environment can become stagnant, devolve into aimless chatter, or even become hostile.
This is where a facilitator steps in. A good facilitator fulfills multiple roles that encourage safe, productive, insightful discussions:
1. They set clear boundaries. One of the most important roles of a facilitator is to lay out the rules of netiquette. Participants need to be informed about what kind of behavior is acceptable and what the consequences are if rules are violated. Where, on our platform, it is the role of the validator to pre-moderate all comments, rejecting those that don’t adhere to the rules, it is the facilitators who remind participants of the rules. Facilitators generally write a list of tips and guidelines and pin it to the top of the discussion board for quick reference.
2. They encourage participation. A great facilitator will make a participant feel like a part of a community. They create an environment in which people feel welcomed and safe to share and discuss their ideas or needs. To do so, facilitators will sometimes post questions and prompts to urge reflection. Facilitators invite participants to share feedback and voice their concerns, moving them to become invested in the online discussion.
3. They inspire participants to look at things from different perspectives. By summarising arguments or bringing attention to alternate points of view in the discussion thread, facilitators can boost critical thinking and understanding in a collaboration.
4. They help develop discussion questions that participants can expand on. Facilitators always keep in mind the goals of the discussion. They use discussion questions as springboards to propel the conversation forward, always relating responses to the final objectives of the sessions and encouraging further thinking toward concrete solutions.
5. They are present, but not overbearing. A good facilitator is like any talented server: they anticipate your needs whilst remaining unobtrusive, performing their duties without stemming the flow of the discussion.
6. They remain objective and neutral. A facilitator doesn’t take sides. Instead, they present both sides of an argument and encourage discussants to see one another’s viewpoints, all with the aim of reaching a concrete resolution.
7. They intervene when the discussion is off-track. The facilitator acts as a magnetic force, pulling a discussion back on track when it becomes derailed. Facilitators are aware that covering too much subject matter or veering off on a tangent can lead to misinterpretation and confusion. Their ability to pinpoint the main argument, relate it to the primary discussion question, point out an overlooked issue and ask follow-up questions means that discussions are smoother, more insightful and efficient.
8. They help ensure a safe environment. If facilitators see an argument is escalating, they are quick to intervene and help both parties reach a resolution. Mutual respect is important in a collaborative setting, and it’s the facilitator’s duty to ensure the rules of the discussion boards are upheld.
9. They promote deeper reflection by posing thoughtful, engaging questions within discussions.
10. They evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a team or project. Facilitators view discussions impartially, which enables them to see clearly where the flow of ideas is working well and where a team is getting stuck. From this vantage point, facilitators are able to point out these kinks to a project leader, helping to prevent possible future problems. In fact, the facilitator plays a big role in wrapping up the discussion itself. They are able to identify the key takeaways from a discussion and suggest ways in which a project can be carried forward or an issue resolved.
Clearly, facilitators play an essential role in steering conversations toward tangible goals. They’re neither drivers nor the passengers of discussions, but instead take on multiple responsibilities that help move discussions toward their destinations safely and efficiently. In this way, they can not only end up saving businesses time and money but can also enhance teamwork and synergy within a company by smoothing over arguments and encouraging participants to see one another’s perspectives. With more and more discussions being moved online, the role of a facilitator could be essential in mediating successful brainstorming or project development sessions.
Interested in learning more about how a facilitator can enhance your online discussions?
Are you a consultant who’s interested in becoming a facilitator on our platform?
*Although facilitators play an integral role on our platform, Innodirect does not currently offer an in-house facilitation service. Instead, we assist external facilitators by providing the platform from which they can operate. We are happy to advise businesses on how to choose a suitable internal or external facilitation consultant and invite you contact us for more details.