Blog | Academy for Nonprofit Excellence - Tidewater Community College -

The Facilitative Leader

December 12, 2016
Chaos was the law of nature; Order was the dream of man.
― Henry Adams

We all want to be part of highly performing teams. Yet so many groups get mired down in chaos and never achieve their goals. How do leaders manage group processes and inspire members to soar to new levels?

Successful leaders benefit from having facilitation skills – whether they consider themselves bona fide facilitators or not. To facilitate means to “make easy” or “ease a process.” Facilitative leaders carefully and purposefully structure meetings such that members are engaged and work together to achieve desired results.

So, how do leaders build performing teams?

First it is important to understand that chaos is a natural stage of group process and can actually be beneficial in inspiring creativity and productivity. There is no avoiding chaos, so leaders must learn to guide groups through and beyond it.

Here are some tips for moving groups from chaos to performing:

  • Plan the agenda with the “end” in mind.
  • Be prepared. Know your material, but be flexible and willing to change course, if necessary.
  • Set up the room in a way where group members feel they are equal and one that allows member to engage with each other.
  • Remain neutral to maintain trust as the leader. If you must take a side, be sure to do so in a thoughtful way. Asking carefully thought out questions can be very effective.
  • Start meetings with “gathering” time. Gathering allows participants to connect on a human level which in turn helps build trust. Serve refreshments. “Breaking bread” with others is a powerful tool in relationship building.
  • Open meetings with a welcome and introductions. Speaking in front of the group at the beginning of the meeting makes it easier for members to speak up later when their input matters. Consider using simple ice breakers that help members get to know each other and build passion around the organization’s mission or purpose.
  • Articulate clearly the vision of the organization. Vision inspires passion and can be used a guidepost in decision making.
  • Utilize tools such as Learning-Thinking-Working styles to learn ways of working better together.
  • Recognize gifts and talents. Be prepared to acknowledge members’ contributions in a non-judgmental way. (There are no bad ideas)
  • Use small groups as much as possible to allow for richer discussions.
  • Build consensus.
  • Keep the momentum and enthusiasm going by celebrating success.

Facilitation is both an art and a science. Practicing these skills will help you build the confidence to take any group from chaos to highly performing!

Beth Hamil is Executive Director of the Cancer Support Center East Tennessee and a 2014 graduate of Leadership Knoxville. Rosa Mar is Retired Global Sourcing Manager at Levi Strauss & Company and a 2001 graduate of Leadership Knoxville. Founded in 1984, Leadership Knoxville works to build a stronger Knoxville by developing people and groups, leading to a greater community. Its programs include Leadership Knoxville, Introduction Knoxville, LK Scholars, Youth Leadership Knoxville and Facilitation Services. For more information please visit