Facilitating a Leaderless Group

Ideally, a leaderless, or "leaderful" group doesn't need a facilitator. If a group is working well, all of the members share, or parcel out, or pass around, the various leadership roles. If the group has worked well together over a long period, this process happens almost without talking about it. But in practice, it often works better to have a facilitator who is recognized as taking on some of the leadership roles for the evening. A group can experiment, having a different facilitator each time, or a small group who take turns, or a steering committee that plans. Avoid spending much time on "process" in the large group.

Briefly, the important roles are:

Setting the tone. This comes first. A facilitator, by the way he listens, by his tone of voice, the feeling content of what he says, his alertness to other men, and his candor in talking about details of his own experience, sets an example. The group should feel like a gathering of good friends who care about each other and who want to be fully visible as their true selves. This can happen even when people are in the group for the first time. A facilitator can show us how.

Time-keeping. Someone needs to keep in mind the need for a mid-meeting break, if we have agreed on one, and on the need to end promptly. To make sure we all have a chance to participate, the facilitator should make sure that the talk keeps moving, that topics get changed if they become repetitious or long-winded, and overly long stories get tactfully shortened or some of the details postponed until everyone in the group has had a chance to be heard.

Recognizing quiet members. If someone is uncomfortable, he usually gives out signals of needing to talk, but these can be easy to miss if they are disguised as boredom and unresponsiveness. Everyone in the group should try to pay attention to problems like this, but it's easiest if there's a facilitator who is expected to invite people to talk.

Respecting one another's differences. It's easy for men to start giving advice in order to fix other men's problems. Usually a gentle reminder that we're all different, and in different parts of our lives, is enough.

Keeping things personal. It's easy for a group to generalize and theorize and talk from the head rather than the heart. It's helpful to say "Give an example of something that's happening for you now". Or "How do you feel about that based on your own experience?"

If someone is taking care of these problems, group dynamics will usually take care of the rest. But a facilitator needs to be aware of some of the pitfalls of his role, particularly

The self-focused facilitator. The facilitator rightly wants to be involved in what's happening. But if he's too involved, he won't be able to pay attention to the items above, and since he's recognized as the facilitator, no one else may feel right about letting him know he's talking too much, or he's steering the conversation too much. It's probably best if the facilitator saves his own stories for last. That way, he has an incentive to make sure the meeting is a success, and then he gets his own reward. But if he repeatedly postpones his own issues, he'll feel let down and burned out. Don't let this happen.