2.5 Facilitator Authority
THE FAST FACILITATOR Facilitator Authority 89
To be successful in facilitating, there needs to be an
awareness of how power works in groups. Group
members will look to you for leadership, regardless
of the position you hold in the organization. The
role of facilitator is invested with authority by the
organization and by the people you are leading. It is
important that you as facilitator recognize how and
when to use the authority you hold.
There are times in the life of a group when a
facilitator needs to use all their authority, fully and
intentionally, to serve the group. There are other
times when the facilitator needs to hand over power
to the group. How and when you make this decision
is key to your success as a facilitator. The qualities of
awareness and flexibility are critical!
There are three bases of authority in facilitation.
Bear in mind that we each use all three of them, and
need the ability to move seamlessly between them.
1. Authoritarian style (autonomy). As the facilitator,
you direct the structure and content. You exer-
cise all the authority provided by your role as
facilitator, and you lead from the front; that is,
you think and act on behalf of the group.
The strength of this style is that people know
where they stand. The weakness is that it is not
likely to include or encourage contributions
from all group members. A facilitator must
“own” their power. There will be times when
they need to instruct group members; if they are
not comfortable with their authority, they will
not be able to provide clear leadership and
structure for the group. A facilitator who only
feels powerful when in complete control will
have a tendency to cling to authority to help
them feel safe and secure. The likelihood here is
that they will end up engendering frustration
and resistance to change.
2. Cooperative style (cooperacy). This mode is char-
acterized by an intention to include all group
members in making decisions about how the
group is going to operate. This power-sharing
approach enables you to work with the group,
guiding it to become more self-directing.
The strength of this style is that it gives real
power to group members, which, in turn, is
likely to energize them to achieve their task. The
weakness is that when mishandled, this facilita-
tion style can leave group members unclear
about who is in control, causing frustration.
Facilitators who fear authority tend to want
to work in this mode all the time. However,
you cannot use the cooperative style until the
group has formed and becomes clear about its
aims and objectives, because it will only lead to
confusion and uncertainty. The group will push
hard to be led and will quickly lose cohesiveness
if members do not feel they have a direction.
3. Autonomous style (autonomy). This is where you
respect the total autonomy of the group. You
do not do things for them or with them; rather,
you give them freedom to find their own way
and exercise their own judgment without any
intervention from you. Structure, content, and
operation of the group is decided entirely by
group members. You act as a hands-off guide.
The strength of this style is that it harnesses
the talents of all and encourages empowerment.
90 • THE FAST FACILITATOR Facilitator Authority
The weakness comes when the group actually
needs more direction but the facilitator mis-
takenly lets it drift along.
Facilitators who avoid giving groups auto-
nomy will miss out on the richness and
resourcefulness of group members, but this
style has to be used appropriately (e.g., inviting
the group to break into subgroups or for project
Facilitation is all about knowing when to use which
style. This chart will make it easier to remember
which style is most appropriate as the group develops.
Group stage Facilitator role per style
Forming and orientation Authoritarian style (hierarchy)
Anxiety is high and group Take charge, break the ice,
members do not know one establish purposes and rules.
another. The challenge is
Storming and testing Cooperative style
Group is working through Support members, listen
individual differences. The to all, observe roles.
challenge is control.
Authoritarian style (hierarchy)
Manage conflicts, redefine
objectives, be impartial.
Norming and settling Cooperative style
Group cooperation develops. Allow ideas to flow,
Focus is on task, open encourage quiet members,
exchange of opinions, hold the boundaries.
establishment of working
methods. The challenge is
Performing and achieving Autonomous style
Group is creative and hard Allow group to manage
working, meets its goals, itself.
works without guidance.
The Appropriate Mode of Authority
at Different Stages in Group Development

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