Getting Started in Facilitation

By Leah Abramson

Lead­ing music pro­grams in the com­mu­ni­ty can be won­der­ful and reward­ing, how­ev­er we may some­times encounter new sit­u­a­tions for which a musi­cal edu­ca­tion has not pre­pared us. This quick guide, includ­ing links and resources, is here to help you dis­cov­er some of the fun­da­men­tals of group facil­i­ta­tion, as well as devel­op skills tai­lored to the needs of your group.

Basic tips to keep in mind before you start:

  • Who is in your group? Intro­duc­tions allow you to get an ear­ly sense of par­tic­i­pants’ per­son­al­i­ties and inter­ests, espe­cial­ly when paired with an ice­break­er activ­i­ty. Let peo­ple intro­duce them­selves if they are able. To cre­ate an inclu­sive envi­ron­ment, you can include your pro­nouns in your own intro­duc­tion so that oth­ers feel safer to share their own.
  • Facil­i­ta­tors respect the goals of their group. What do your par­tic­i­pants want to learn or achieve? How do they want to feel while the group is in session—for instance, are they focused on skill devel­op­ment, or just want to have fun? Goals may change as the group devel­ops and may dif­fer from per­son to per­son. Keep par­tic­i­pants’ goals in mind as you plan your sessions.
  • Con­sid­er mak­ing “Group Agree­ments” before begin­ning col­lab­o­ra­tive work. Writ­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion ground rules on a board or shared doc­u­ment can remind your group of the mutu­al respect and kind­ness need­ed to work togeth­er effec­tive­ly. If con­flict aris­es lat­er on, these agree­ments can be referred to as a reminder of the con­duct agreed upon as a group.
  • Be flex­i­ble. Every group is dif­fer­ent, and some­times the needs of a group can shift or change with par­tic­i­pants. As facil­i­ta­tor, you may need to adjust your activ­i­ties and expec­ta­tions to accom­mo­date chang­ing needs.

Facilitation Fundamentals

The fol­low­ing resources may be help­ful if you are new to facil­i­ta­tion and need a basic overview of tech­niques or some activ­i­ties to get you started.

  • Free Ebook, “Lead­ing Groups Online,” is a primer on how to get start­ed in facil­i­tat­ing online groups. Writ­ten from an activist and orga­niz­ing stand­point, though the prin­ci­ples will apply to most group envi­ron­ments. Trans­la­tions are avail­able in Pol­ish, Kore­an, Chi­nese, and Spanish.
  • Free, two-hour online course, “Facil­i­tat­ing Group Dis­cus­sions,” is a more hands-on way to learn the basics of facil­i­ta­tion. Though geared toward the busi­ness sec­tor through Open­Learn, its tech­niques will trans­late to most group set­tings. The course also has an entire sec­tion of tips and strate­gies for var­i­ous com­mon group dynam­ics and dis­rup­tive behaviours.
  • Help­ful web­site, Library of Facil­i­ta­tion Tech­niques, is per­fect if you are in search of a spe­cif­ic activ­i­ty or tool. While some sec­tions are behind a pay­wall, there is a pletho­ra of free activ­i­ties from team build­ing and idea gen­er­a­tion, to per­son­al devel­op­ment and goal setting.
  • New online tool, Tool­si, is still in its beta ver­sion, but already con­tains a pletho­ra of cours­es, tools, and activ­i­ties geared toward com­mu­ni­ty facil­i­ta­tors. Paid sub­scrip­tion is avail­able, how­ev­er the free option also con­tains a large selec­tion of activ­i­ties and down­load­able PDF’s.

Group Dynamics

One of the most impor­tant roles of a facil­i­ta­tor is to ensure that all mem­bers of the group feel like they can con­tribute in a way that feels com­fort­able and safe. Learn­ing about group dynam­ics can help with this. For instance, how can you draw out qui­eter mem­bers, while mak­ing sure more dom­i­nant par­tic­i­pants do not take more than their fair share of time and atten­tion? And if par­tic­i­pants’ ideas clash, how do you resolve con­flict in a fair and peace­ful way? The fol­low­ing links can help demys­ti­fy com­mon dynam­ics that arise in groups and help a facil­i­ta­tor work towards eas­ing ten­sions in order to keep work­ing ami­ca­bly towards your goals.

  • Down­load­able PDF, Group Dynam­ics and the Art of Facil­i­ta­tion, is for any­one who wants to dig deep­er into group dynam­ics and behav­iour. This “small dose learn­ing doc­u­ment” gets detailed about some of the dynam­ics that can arise between group mem­bers, as well as between facil­i­ta­tors and their par­tic­i­pants, with trou­bleshoot­ing and solu­tions offered.
  • An arti­cle from Mind­Tools that gets into the nit­ty grit­ty of group behav­iour, in par­tic­u­lar high­light­ing the work of influ­en­tial the­o­rists Benne and Sheats. Includes infor­ma­tion on how to use group role the­o­ry to devel­op your group and resolve conflict.

Trauma-informed Facilitation

Some­times we are called upon to facil­i­tate groups in which the peo­ple we are work­ing with have expe­ri­enced trau­ma, or are cur­rent­ly part of a mar­gin­al­ized pop­u­la­tion (some exam­ples of this may be groups that take place in cor­rec­tion­al facil­i­ties, men­tal health facil­i­ties, or impov­er­ished areas in your city). Though this work can be impor­tant and reward­ing, it can also present chal­lenges to a facil­i­ta­tor if we do not have a sim­i­lar lived experience.

As musi­cians, we may not have expe­ri­ence in social work or coun­selling set­tings, and nor are we expect­ed to. That said, it can be help­ful to edu­cate your­self on trau­ma-informed prac­tices in order to keep your par­tic­i­pants (and your­self) phys­i­cal­ly and emo­tion­al­ly safe. The fol­low­ing resources around trau­ma-informed facil­i­ta­tion can help build your sen­si­tiv­i­ty to oth­ers’ lived expe­ri­ence and cre­ate a safer and more inclu­sive envi­ron­ment for par­tic­i­pants from all backgrounds.

  • A short arti­cle from Facil­i­tat­ingXYZ on the basics of using a trau­ma-informed lens while facil­i­tat­ing groups.
  • This free, hour-long video is a record­ing of a work­shop that explores “what trau­ma is, the impact it can have, and prac­ti­cal tools, tips, and strate­gies for trau­ma-informed facilitation.”
  • Intro­duc­tion to Trau­ma for Facil­i­ta­tors is an intro­duc­to­ry course for facil­i­ta­tors who want to learn more about trau­ma, its impacts, and how to deal with it. The cost is $35 for this online workshop.
  • This free, bilin­gual course on men­tal health, “Under­stand­ing Stig­ma,” describes the impact of stig­ma on peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness and addic­tions, and ways to reduce dis­crim­i­na­tion. From the Men­tal Health Com­mis­sion of Cana­da, this course is direct­ed at health care work­ers, but will be help­ful for any­one work­ing with peo­ple who strug­gle with men­tal health or addictions.

Supporting yourself and others

If you or one of your par­tic­i­pants have expe­ri­enced a trau­mat­ic event in a facil­i­ta­tion set­ting, you may need extra sup­port. If you are work­ing with­in a struc­tured orga­ni­za­tion, such as a non-prof­it, or health author­i­ty, ask man­age­ment or human resources what kind of sup­ports are avail­able to you. Often coun­selling or psy­cho­log­i­cal first aid sup­ports will be avail­able in these envi­ron­ments. If you are a pri­vate con­trac­tor, or work­ing in a less struc­tured envi­ron­ment, you may need to seek out your own resources.

These bilin­gual psy­cho­log­i­cal first aid cours­es are acces­si­ble through the Cana­di­an Red Cross at $20 each, and cov­er self-care, as well as car­ing for oth­ers. Both of these cours­es can help you learn how to care for your­self and oth­ers to cre­ate more resilience to stress and trau­mat­ic situations.

If you are facil­i­tat­ing a group with peo­ple who have a trau­ma his­to­ry or men­tal health chal­lenges, you may also wish to have con­tact infor­ma­tion for the cri­sis and sui­cide hot­line, which is avail­able to sup­port you or par­tic­i­pants 24/7, at any time of day or night. Please note that many cri­sis and sui­cide hot­lines are spe­cif­ic to each province. Please be sure to find the appro­pri­ate num­bers for the area you are facil­i­tat­ing in.

The fol­low­ing are Cana­da-wide num­bers that pro­vide 24-hour, bilin­gual support:

Cri­sis and sui­cide hot­line:

If there is an emer­gency, please call 911.