The University Record, April 26, 1993

Facilitators provide the ‘glue’ for M-Quality teams

By Rebecca A. Doyle

Think of a facilitator as the glue that keeps things together but is invisible, says Catherine Lilly, and you’ll be close to defining the role.

In the M-Quality approach, the “glue” is a very important part of defining a problem, collecting data and trying possible solutions. Facilitators may sit quietly in the corner and never say a word, but behind the scenes they play a multiple role of promoter, communicator, coach, coordinator and teacher.

Lilly, who is facilitator for an Information Technology Division (ITD) quality team, is an organization development specialist for ITD.

When a team is defining a problem, the facilitator may be in communication with management, Lilly says, to ensure that a solution worked out by the team won’t be one that can’t be implemented. As communicator, a facilitator will make sure that there is an open line between management and the group, and that other teams, individuals or groups that should be involved in the planning are invited.

“We all tend to think that the work is just the pieces we do, but there may be other teams we may have overlooked that contribute to the whole process,” Lilly says. A facilitator makes sure that everyone who should be involved in the solution will be able to meet with the team and explain any other parts of the process it may not understand.

As coach and teacher, the facilitator works mostly one-on-one with the team leader, Lilly asserts.

“We are there to observe and to support, but mostly the team leader needs to try things, and we encourage them to do that. If they make a mistake, we go over it and fix it the next session. It’s usually more important to build the sense of team and let people learn from the mistakes.”

Bernadette Malinoski, assistant director of personnel, is facilitator for one of the College of Engineering’s Excellence in Engineering Education teams. Her role, she says, includes helping team leaders prepare for meetings, coaching on leadership skills, telling about experiences of other teams and determining the effectiveness of team meetings.

Facilitators also are coaches who stand silently in the wings making notes on group dynamics—how group members relate to each other, personality conflicts, identifying those who may be too shy to speak or too aggressive to keep quiet. Later, the facilitator and team leader talk about things each may have observed and plan how to equalize each team member’s participation or to change the meeting format.

Malinoski says that being a facilitator has shown her “how much dedication, creativity, skill and leadership ability is present in the University’s workforce and how it is unleashed when team members ‘check their stripes at the door’ and listen to each other.

“Taking the four M-Quality principles seriously [putting the needs of the customer first, continuous improvement activity, managing by fact and respecting people] is making me a more effective manager,” she adds.

“And I’ve learned how much fun working can be. I typically leave team meetings energized by the team’s sense of what it has been able to accomplish. Together we’ve learned to celebrate progress, mark milestones and to give ourselves three cheers when our hard work pays off in the successful completion of a project or implementation of an improvement.”