Academic journal article Group Facilitation

Online Facilitator Competencies for Group Facilitators

Academic journal article Group Facilitation

Online Facilitator Competencies for Group Facilitators

Article excerpt


In 2000, Pierce, Cheesebrow, and Braun published a comprehensive description of the Facilitator Competency Model based on competency identification work undertaken with group facilitators at conferences of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) and the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) through 1990-1996. The model contained eighteen competencies grouped into six categories of: (A) engage in professional growth, (B) create cooperative partnerships, (C) create an environment of participation, (D) utilize multisensory approaches, (E) orchestrate the group journey, and (F) commit to a life of integrity. These competencies subsequently became the Core Facilitation Competencies of the IAF and informed the ToP Facilitation Competencies of the ICA. Both competencies models underpinned the facilitator certification programmes that were subsequently developed.

In any group work there are a number of inputs, processes, activities, and outputs. Some of these are conducted face-toface and in-person, and others are conducted completely online between organizations, and at different levels within an organization. The value of participatoiy processes to address organizational needs is no longer questioned in the workplace. In parallel, the capacity for enhancing participation globally has grown to provide anytime, anywhere opportunities to meet and collaborate.

Opportunities to work remotely and with colleagues at a distance are now becoming the norm, yet optimal team performance and satisfaction is not always realized. Through a range of internet-enabled software tools, communication is conducted between managers, between staff, between organizations, between organizations and their clients and customers, and more. Effective online communication within these collaborative conversations requires a range of skills and competencies for those facilitating them.

This paper synthesizes what several groups of facilitators have discussed and identified as key criteria to facilitating and leading online groups. It focuses on those aspects of organizational group work conducted online, and investigates what are the threshold competencies (Spencer & Spencer, 1993) that are required to effectively facilitate those online aspects of collaborative group work.

Online Collaborative Group work

The world of group work has significantly changed over the last fifteen years with the rapid rise of computing, networking, and internet-enabled group applications. These web tools enable groups of people to work together in ways never before possible. New technologies and devices can now be used by people to plan, lead, conduct, support, and share their group work. Considerable advantages can be realized by organizations through using the wide range of new and emerging forms that online collaborative technologies now can offer.

Research has shown that online and virtual group work has not been as effective or as satisfying to group participants as that of face-to-face group work (Chidambaram, 1996; Lau et al., 2000; Saunders & Ahuja, 2006; Thorpe, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011 ; Warkentin et al., 1997). In online groups, many of the aspects of face-to-face interaction - vital to the facilitator - are no longer available or are not as easy to read. This means that proven face-to-face processes and techniques are either less effective, or simply cannot be applied in an online group (Nunamaker, Zhao, & Briggs, 2002). Facilitation relies on the intricacies and connection of the body and its complex ways of communication. These elements normally provide a range of feedback to both the speaker and receivers of communication to complete the understanding of a single message. Communicating online however, requires more explicit writing and reading to ensure communication is complete (White, 2001 ).

Group facilitation has been identified as potentially a key part in improving online group effectiveness, outcomes, and participant satisfaction (Mittleman, Briggs & Nunamaker, 2000; White, 2004; Pauleen & Yoong, 2001; Rangarajan & Rohrbaugh, 2003; Whitworth & McQueen, 2003; Hunter, 2003; Thorpe 2009, 2011). …

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