Six ways facilitation skills can improve cross-disciplinary team leadership

By Manal Affara

An Arabic version of this post is available.

author_manal-affara
Manal Affara (biography)

What facilitation skills are useful for leading teams in cross-disciplinary projects?

Facilitation and leadership are usually considered to involve different skills, but in a recent article Carrie Addington (2020) examined how facilitation skills can improve leadership. I take this one step further to examine how facilitation skills can improve leadership of cross-disciplinary projects.

Collaboration is central to cross-disciplinary research, requiring facilitation to engage partners, unlock their potential, organize the project, and encourage continuous learning, as well as applying insights from that learning.

Addington argues that facilitators have the ability to:

  • make content relevant to establish participant buy-in, including through examples, stories and analogies
  • be well-organised and manage time in order to achieve outcomes
  • present well and give clear instructions
  • create opportunities for thoughts to flow freely
  • be both focused and flexible
  • manage group dynamics
  • “ask engaging questions and build on comments to elevate the conversation” (p. 58).

I have identified six relevant ways in which facilitation skills can improve leadership of cross-disciplinary teams and projects.

  1. Effectively lead team discussions
    Facilitation skills can help leaders enhance the flexibility of collaborations to achieve positive results, contribute towards social learning and change practice.
    Authentic communication leads to better discussion and can help leaders build a team of contributors and thinkers. Facilitation skills can also boost team engagement, and ensure that team members feel empowered about their ideas, which in turn helps in fostering a culture of innovation.
  2. Organise team processes
    Facilitation skills can help leaders establish agreed timelines and regular meetings to help maintain team motivation to achieve project goals. Facilitation skills can also help leaders boost team morale and engagement by employing tools to foster creativity.
  3. Conduct interactive meetings
    Facilitation skills can help leaders guide teams in design thinking and in developing shared mental models. Facilitation skills ensure that people are heard and that they are asked questions before responders share their ideas; they also ensure that there are pauses to allow assimilation of information.
    Facilitation skills help leaders foster co-innovation and mutual understanding across disciplines and stakeholders.
  4. Perfect the pivot
    Facilitation skills can help leaders stay focused on project goals to build sustainable agreement, while adapting to change. They enable leaders to respond intelligently to innovative opportunities for team creativity.
    Facilitation skills can help leaders enhance their sense of timing, learning, and adapting to change, allowing them to pivot when necessary to sustain the goal of the project.
  5. Develop relationships based on trust and respect
    Facilitation skills have the ability to solidify trustful ties and can help leaders make the most of members’ social competencies, flexibility, and reciprocal relationships. Facilitation and leadership both require integrity, credibility and alignment with core values and these skills mutually reinforce each other in achieving project outcomes.
  6. Lead with emotional intelligence
    Facilitation skills can help leaders effectively manage group dynamics, while maintaining their own passion. Facilitation skills can help leaders foster collaboration with empathy.

Conclusion

As described here, leadership of cross-disciplinary teams and projects can be enhanced in various ways by facilitation skills, especially through improving team communication, encouraging creativity, and supporting collaboration. Are there other facilitation skills that you think would be useful for leaders of cross-disciplinary projects to master?

Reference:
Addington, C. (2020). Use Your Facilitation Skills to Become a Better Leader. Talent Development Magazine, 74, 9: 54-59. (Online): https://www.td.org/magazines/td-magazine/use-your-facilitation-skills-to-become-a-better-leader

Biography: Manal Affara PhD is professor of Egyptology in the Tourist-Guidance Department at Alexandria University in Egypt. Her research interests are to develop interdisciplinary research in tourism.


ست وسائل من مهارات التيسير لتطوير قيادة الفريق البحثي عابر التخصصات
Six ways facilitation skills can improve cross-disciplinary team leadership

An English version of this post is available

If the Arabic text below is not displaying correctly, this is a PDF of the blog post in Arabic (PDF 100KB).

ما هي مهارات التيسير المطلوبة لقيادة فرق المشاريع البحثية عابرة التنخصصات cross-disciplinary ؟

عادة ما ينظر الي التيسير والقيادة على انهما ينطويان على مهارات مختلفة. ولكن في مقال حديث لكاري ادينغتون (2020) وضحت فيه ان مهارات التيسير تعمل على تطوير قيادة الفريق. في هذا المقال سوف يتم توضيح مهارات التيسير التي تستخدم لتطوير قيادة العمل الجماعي.

يعد العمل الجماعي امرا أساسيا في المشاريع عابرة التخصصات والتى تتطلب ممارسة مهارات التيسير لمساهمة الشركاء في العمل الجماعي، وإطلاق العنان لإمكاناتهم، وتنظيم العمل بالمشروع، فضلا عن تطبيق رؤي مستقاة من ذلك التعلم.

يعرض ادينغتون (2020) ان الميسر لديه القدرة علي:

– ان يجعل المجال ملائم وذا صلة لتأييد ولقبول المشاركين؛ وذلك بعرض الأمثلة والقصص والمقارنات.
– أن يحسن التنظيم الجيد ويدير الوقت لتحقيق النتائج.
– ان يجيد التقديم ويعطي التعليمات بوضوح.
– ان يخلق الفرص في الحوار لتدفق الأفكار بحرية.
– ان يتسم بالتركيز والمرونة.
– ان يدير ديناميكيات الفريق بفاعلية وحيوية.
– ان يطرح الاسئلة وابداء التعليقات لرفع مستوي فاعلية الحوار (ص58).

لقد تناولت ست وسائل من مهارات التيسير تعمل علي تحسين قيادة الفريق للمشاريع البحثية عابرة التخصصات على النحو التالى :

1. قيادة مناقشات الفريق بشكل فعال

يمكن لمهارات التيسير ان تساعد القادة على تعزيز التعاون لتحقيق نتائج إيجابية، والمساهمة في التعلم الاجتماعي وممارسة التغير.

يؤدي الاتصال الحقيقي والصادق الي مناقشة أفضل وبناءة، مما تساعد القادة علي بناء فريق من المشاركين والمفكرين. وتكفل مشاركة الفريق، وتشعرهم بالتمكين إزاء أفكارهم ومشاركاتهم؛ مما يساعد بدوره علي تعزيز ثقافة الابتكار.

2. ينظم الأمور اللوجستية للفريق

يمكن لمهارات التيسير ان تساعد القادة على وضع جداول زمنية متفق عليها واجتماعات منتظمة للمساعدة للحفاظ على دافع الفريق لتحقيق اهداف المشروع. يمكن لمهارات التيسير ان تساعد القادة أيضا على رفع معنويات الفريق والمشاركة من خلال استخدام أدوات لتعزيز الابداع على سبيل المثال: توفر الأجهزة السمعية و البصرية وتوفير بيئة آمنة ومريحة ووضع قواعد للمشاركة.

3. عقد اجتماعات تفاعلية

يمكن ان تساعد مهارات التيسير القادة على توجيه أعضاء الفريق في تنظيم الأفكار وتطوير نماذج فكرية مشتركة. ويشكل من إحدى الوظائف الأساسية للميسرين ان يتيح الفرصة للفريق بطرح الأسئلة وان يستمع إليهم؛ والتأكيد من استيعاب المعلومات التي طرحت في الاجتماع. تساعد مهارات التيسير القادة علي تعزيز الابتكار المشترك والتفاهم المتبادل بين التخصصات المتعددة وأصحاب المصلحة.

4. التركيز على الأهداف

تساعد مهارات التيسير القادة على مواصلة التركيز على اهداف المشروع لبناء اتفاق مستدام. فهي تمكن القادة من الاستجابة بذكاء للفرص الابتكارية للأبداع الجماعي. يمكن لمهارات التيسير ان تساعد القادة علي تعزيز شعورهم بالتوقيت و التعلم و التكيف مع التغيير والتركيز لدعم هدف المشروع.

5. تطوير العلاقات على أساس الثقة والاحترام

تتمتع مهارات التيسير بالقدرة على ترسيخ الروابط الموثوقة، ويمكن ان تساعد القادة على تحقيق أقصى استفادة من الكفاءات الاجتماعية والمرنة والعلاقات المتبادلة بين الأعضاء. يتطلب كل من التيسير والقيادة النزاهة والمصداقية والموائمة مع القيم الأساسية. وهذه المهارات تعزز بعضها البعض في تحقيق نتائج المشروع.

6. القيادة بذكاء عاطفي

يمكن ان تساعد مهارات التيسير القادة على إدارة ديناميكيات المجموعة بفاعلية مع الحفاظ على شغفهم، و تعزيز التعاون بالتعاطف.
ان تطوير قيادة الفريق بمهارات التيسير امر مثمر، حيث تعمل مهارات التيسير علي تحسين التواصل بين أعضاء الفريق وتشجيع الابداع ودعم التعاون. تتطلب المهارات القيادية للفرق والمشاريع عابرة التخصصات التركيز على المهارات الشخصية والمقومات والكفاءات الفكرية، وكذلك المهارات الاجتماعية والعاطفية.

يمكن تعزيز قيادة فرق المشاريع البحثية عابرة التخصصات cross-disciplinary بطرق مختلفة من مهارات التيسير.ْ
هل هناك مهارات تيسير اخري تعتقد انها ستكون مفيدة للقادة لإتقاتها؟

Reference:
Addington, C. (2020). Use Your Facilitation Skills to Become a Better Leader. Talent Development Magazine, 74, 9: 54-59. (Online) (Paywall): https://www.td.org/magazines/td-magazine/use-your-facilitation-skills-to-become-a-better-leader

Biography:

منال عفاره/ دكتوراه. هي استاذه في علم المصريات بقسم الإرشاد السياحي بجامعة الإسكندرية في مصر. تتمثل اهتماماتها البحثية في تطوير بحث متعدد التخصصات في مجال السياحة.

12 thoughts on “Six ways facilitation skills can improve cross-disciplinary team leadership”

  1. Thanks Dr Manal for this timely post. In my experience, research leadership is often based on subject expertise or level of research seniority rather than skills required to manage a diverse team. You have captured the essence of ‘facilitation’ as one of these skills. However, the process of developing these skills could be seen as ‘time consuming’ that ‘distracts from the core research’. What do you think? Do you think having a designated project manager makes up for these skills if research leaders do not (or cannot) have them?

    Reply
    • Many thanks Dr Basirat in your interest in reading the blog about “facilitation skills can improve leadership.”
      Despite being time consuming, obtaining facilitation skills in itself is an investment in one own’s skillset; the leaders are the ones who guide the teams innovation and creativity towards achieving the goals of the research. To address the challenges facing the cross disciplinary team, improving the facilitation skills is a must for a better results.
      Best regards,
      Manal

      Reply
  2. Thank you, Manal Afara, for this valuable contribution. Your ideas are relevant to the present situation faced by many leaders. They are even more relevant to the likely future, I anticipate.

    Evidence has existed since at least the 1960s that conventional organisational structures and leadership styles were losing their effectiveness. Even then they were often unfit for their purpose. Since then, the need for alternatives has become even more apparent.

    In cross-disciplinary teams, traditional leadership styles are even less appropriate. There is reason to believe that the use of cross-disciplinary teams will increase. Without facilitation, the members of such teams often have difficulty communicating successfully with each other. The potential benefits of such teams then risk being lost.

    Each of your six suggestions accords with my own experience of helping teams, of many varieties, to improve their planning, problem solving and decision making. Even simple facilitation skills, easily learned, can make a substantial difference. My opinion is that many teams would benefit from your ideas. When the teams are cross-disciplinary, the usual difficulties that teams experience are further amplified. Each of your suggestions offers a path to improvement.

    You could write a lot more about each of your suggestions, I suspect. It is to be hoped that you do.

    Again, thank you. Warm regards — Bob Dick

    Reply
    • Hello Bob Dick,
      Many thanks for your valuable thoughts, inspiring!

      Leadership in a cross-disciplinary team is a competitive task and needs a full-time commitment. As cross-disciplinary is the innovative paradigm for addressing complex problems, hence the criteria for leading his team should be improved and developed according to the necessity of this innovative paradigm.

      In my opinion, leaders in the cross-disciplinary team have to learn more about the innovative tools and facilitation skills for a successful leadership, and how this will help leading the team for achieving his goal. Hoping, the six ways facilitating skills will be the spark.

      Working on elaborating with each of the six ways of facilitation skills, is a good idea to enrich the work on developing the leadership of a cross-disciplinary team.

      Thank you agin for your encouraging contribution, appreciated,
      Best Regards,
      Manal

      Reply
  3. Thank you for such an interesting post: everything in your post resonates with my experience. My first thoughts, based on my UK experience of developing inter-agency strategies and projects, which in turn prompted and were informed by research, are as follows:

    – A collaborative arrangement across disciplines or agencies can be set up formally, but without willing partners, the ensuing work can be tokenistic and far from effective or efficient. Some people can feel threatened by joint working arrangements. A key ingredient is something I would call a ‘collaborative spirit’ which some people seem able to engender. This creates the spark for good things to happen and also to infiltrate into practice. I suspect that this collaborative spirit is growing as more people are becoming aware of the need to collaborate across disciplines to help address situations of complexity, and thus see the potential advantages of such joint working arrangements.

    – It is perhaps helpful to distinguish between facilitation as an ongoing broad skill where someone recognises the need to convene, deliberate and plan in different ways, and a variety of facilitation skills for a planned event, meeting or workshop. A variety of approaches drawn from complexity, systems thinking and problem structuring may consist of facilitative exercises (e.g. Soft Systems Methodology, Viable System Model, Critical Systems Heuristics) that could provide new insights to direct research and practice. These could contribute much to the facilitative skillset for the leadership of cross-disciplinary projects. Also of relevance here is the endeavour of the Systemic Design Association which convenes an annual international symposium about Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD).

    – Finally, something I would think about adding to or incorporating within your list. That would be ‘staying power to play the long game,’ despite (inevitably) encountering difficulties. Arranging for people to work together who may not have worked together before, are from different disciplines and indeed working cultures can be challenging. Everyone has to re-adjust their thinking, their language and ways of communicating, and that takes time, when some may be looking for (or under pressure to produce) quick wins. Facilitation skills could improve cross-disciplinary team leadership if there is a long-term commitment to this approach from the various partners, and people do not feel too setback by experiencing bumps along the way.

    Amidst a wave of interest in cross-boundary working, an interpretation of leadership skills would do well to make the link that you have between facilitation skills and the leadership of cross-disciplinary projects.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for your comment and insightful contribution. Besides, I liked the terms you used: “collaborative spirit,” and “wave of interest.”

      I believe that practicing facilitation skills of leadership in a collaborative team, and emphasizing using the innovative tools towards addressing complex problems, will empower the cross-disciplinary team to sustain and achieve goals.

      The role of facilitator is vital in organizing the logistic of the meetings, but more efficient improving facilitation skills of the leaders of cross-disciplinary team to boost team morale and engagement and step out from the comfort zone.

      Pivots for the innovative cross-disciplinary team project are collaboration, integrating, framing and implementing. So, scoping framework of the complex problem from the beginning will trigger on system thinking and designing the strategic plan and boosting achieving the goal.

      Working with enhancing and consolidating the six ways facilitation skills for improving the leadership in a cross-disciplinary team will fostering the collaborative spirit of the cross-disciplinary team, which in turn will support long term game for achieving project goals.

      Many thanks for your comments!

      Reply
  4. Thank you Dr. Manal for sharing this article. I find it very interesting and important for team-leaders. Indeed, the research process is getting more and more a process of good management to have good results. Time & Research management are two important factors to guarantee the success of any project, particularly when it is cross-disciplinary project/team. However, it is relatively difficult to lead researchers from different disciplines and various visions and research method, so you article will of course give some hints to overthrow the potential obstacles that will be found.
    Best regards
    Ahmed

    Reply
  5. Thank you, Dr. Manal, for highlighting the importance of facilitation skills for leading cross-disciplinary teams. In my experience, many people think of facilitators as necessary only for managing public participation or stakeholder meetings where the groups are large and the participants are expected to have especially diverse views on the topics under discussion. However, even relatively small teams of researchers from different disciplines can have very different views on everything from the definition of the problem and research questions to the appropriate methods of investigation or data analysis to the very nature of truth or knowledge to the ordering of steps of a project. For teams that must work closely together, harnessing and integrating differences through effective group processes is essential for leveraging the diverse contributions of all team members.

    I’m not sure I have additional specific skills to add, but your post made me think of a number of practical guides on facilitation techniques, skills, and processes. The references below come from different domains but could be a useful supplement to your post for some members of this community.

    1. “Section 2. Developing Facilitation Skills” (https://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/leadership/group-facilitation/facilitation-skills/main)

    This comes from the “Community Tool Box”, a resource for community development organising, produced by the Center for Community Health and Development at the University of Kansas. It is a section of Chapter 16. Group Facilitation and Problem-Solving in the Leadership and Management section of the toolkit.

    2. “Facilitating Political Discussions” [Facilitator Training Workshop Guide] (https://tischcollege.tufts.edu/sites/default/files/Facilitating%20Political%20Dialogues%20Workshop.pdf)

    This is a guide for training others to facilitate political discussions, produced by the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education at Tufts University. While it is focused on political issues, the fundamental principles and level of detail provided make it useful for any facilitation activity.

    3. “Tips on Facilitating Effective Group Discussions” (https://www.brown.edu/sheridan/teaching-learning-resources/teaching-resources/classroom-practices/learning-contexts/discussions/tips)

    This list of tips is presented by The Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning at Brown University. It is focused on group discussion in classrooms, but includes similar fundamental principles to the two above with some useful dos and don’ts lists.

    Thank you again for highlighting the unique value that facilitation skills bring to cross-disciplinary projects.

    Best wishes,
    Caryn

    Reply
    • Many thanks Caryn for your insightful comments and the links, which in turn will enhance and provide who are interested to learn more about improving the leadership skills in cross-disciplinary team project. I agree with you that integrating difference through effective cross-disciplinary groups with a skillful leadership are key for a successful cross-disciplinary team.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: