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Facilitation: Group with both new and experienced members

You may have a newly formed group or a group that has been meeting for a while that includes a mix of participants who know each other well and other members that are brand new and don’t yet know anyone. As a facilitator, it can be particularly challenging to meet the needs of everyone in the group. If this is something you are experiencing, join me this week as I highlight 3 ways to facilitate a group that has a mix of new and experienced members.

  1. Ask questions.  Take time to ask questions that will allow both new and experienced members to actively participate. These questions can be related to relationship-building and better understanding one another’s perspectives. I recently facilitated a group that had several different teams that were in very different places. I initially struggled with how to engage them all during the large group portion and realized that it was an opportunity for them to support one another. I started out by asking questions related to whether they were newly formed, whether they had been meeting for a while and grown weary and whether they had been meeting for a while and were energized. 
  2. Allow group members to lead. Encourage your experienced members to be part of leading the discussion and providing support to the new members. Find ways to specifically ask some of the experienced members to share their stories or lessons learned related to a topic of discussion. Using the example from #1, I followed up questions with an opportunity for those who had been meeting for a while to give their best advice to those starting out and also asked those who were still engaged and energized to give ideas to those who had grown weary. We were able to have a wonderful discussion by allowing other group members to provide leadership and expertise. Also, recognize that the new members have something to contribute as well. Even though they may be new to this group, their perspective and experience in other settings can provide an important contribution to the discussion.
  3. Acknowledge acronyms. When we have a mix of new and experienced members, it can be difficult for the experienced members (and sometimes the experienced facilitator) to remember that not everyone knows all of the “acronyms.” I used to think it was just public health people, but I’ve found that all sectors have commonly used words that may mean absolutely nothing to those who are new.  As a facilitator, it’s important to ask questions that help bring out the meaning of the words and phrases and to take the time to explain what these “common” acronyms really mean.

So what about you? As a facilitator, what do you do to engage groups that have a combination of new and experienced participants?

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