Like so many other things in our business life, meetings continue to evolve. When U.S. Army General Henry Martyn Robert was asked to chair some meetings in the 1870’s, he looked at how chaotic they were. He felt that he did not understand enough about how they should take place, so he researched and drafted a set of rules called “Robert’s Rules of Order” that were based loosely on parliamentary procedure. They have been adapted since that time and used in many workplaces and societies.

While many meetings are run by a chair (or chairperson, chairman, or chairwoman, depending on where you are), facilitated meetings are different. (We’ll talk about how and why that is shortly.)

Some people refer to any facilitated session as a workshop rather than a meeting, with the idea that participants expect to work in a workshop, whereas they meet in a meeting. We are pretty comfortable with either term. As a facilitator, if you are invited to lead a session, see what works best for the group as you plan the program, choose a space, set a time, and consider what’s available.

There are many definitions of facilitation, just as there are books and articles written about it. Facilitation means “to make easy,” so the job of the facilitator is to create a meeting environment where work is made easier for the participants.

That’s a pretty simple definition. Facilitation will have different applications and uses in different settings. Sometimes a facilitator is asked to moderate between parties who disagree (which is probably a role better suited to a moderator). Often, facilitators are asked to act as process or group leaders.

As a process leader, the facilitator manages the group process, which allows the participants to pay attention to the content of the work. This is a pretty traditional explanation of facilitation, where the facilitator guides the team through the agenda, focusing on the people involved, and remains detached from the content and the outcomes.