Facilitation i.e. the coordination of a workshop is one of the most important skills service designers and experts working in service development should have. During their study unit, Master's degree students at Laurea learned about different methods of facilitation and put together and coordinated workshops for contracting companies.
Workshops are a good work method when you want to generate ideas for, design and develop products and services or when you wish to utilise gathered understanding of customer to resolve problems. There are numerous methods for realising a workshop, in order to achieve the desired benefits and results a facilitator must be present to coordinate work.
Facilitation refers to the coordination of a workshop or group activities, and it is one of the basic tools in the area of service design. Service design is an important part of all of Laurea's Master's degree programmes, and during the spring a group of Master's students from different fields learned about the coordination of a workshop during the Facilitation as an Expert's Tool study unit.
Antti Kytö who works are a service designer at Samlink, a company that offers financial services, came in to speak as a visiting expert during the study unit. Kytö graduated in 2015 from Laurea's Master's Degree Programme in Service Innovation and Design taught in English.
- I feel that facilitated workshops are a central part of the creative problem solving process. Facilitation skills and the ability to help groups succeed are key areas of expertise an expert needs in the quickly changing working world, Kytö describes.
- Facilitation can be utilised when the aim is to form a common view. These days, no expert is able to work alone and success always requires cooperation, shared discussions, mutually shared epiphanies and solutions, Kytö specifies.
Real commissions challenge students to learn
The planning and realisation of workshops for contracting companies comprises a central part of the facilitation study unit for Laurea's Master's degree students. Students worked in small groups to coordinate a workshop, which was realised according to a contracting company's genuine development needs or objectives. The purpose of a workshop could have been e.g. to collect customer understanding data from certain customer groups or to generate ideas on, design and develop new services.
- A company's genuine commission challenges students to consider and plan a workshop in a completely different way than they would, if the workshop was coordinated during a study unit with just other students participating, describes Laurea's Service Design Manager and instructor of the study unit Outi Kinnunen from Laurea.
- A workshop based on a genuine commission demonstrates to facilitators how important a workshop is in the production of new information.
During the first contact teaching sessions for the study unit, students learned about the different methods for service design and facilitation. Before holding an actual workshop, the students drew up detailed plans on what would be completed during each stage of the workshop and the target results they wanted to achieve. Finally, students the listed the results and compiled an analysis of the results for the contracting company.
Taking on the role of facilitator and meeting with a genuine company commissioning a project was an exciting experience:
- I was terribly nervous about coordinating a workshop before it took place, because it was an area in which I had no experience. Practical details also caused some nerves; will anyone attend the workshop and how will the available timetables, equipment and the facilities work, Katri Saraste and Tanja Kneckt, Master's degree students in the customer-oriented service development programme describe.
- The company commissioning the workshop however gave us a warm reception and the workshop went well. Success in this assignment has encouraged us to continue facilitation also after the study unit comes to an end, the students explain.
Saraste and Kneckt both see facilitation as an important tool with regard to an expert's expertise and skill. According to them, the practical methods for facilitation learnt during the study unit can be utilised in daily work tasks later on; during a meeting it is a good way to kick off the generation of new ideas.
The study unit's instructor Outi Kinnunen has noticed that Master's degree students from different fields have found an abundance of different ways in which to apply the methods learned during the study unit.
- Many may attend the study unit for example to gain tools for gathering materials for their thesis. However, many students experience moments of revelation when they notice how many new aspects facilitation can bring to their own work, she notes.
A facilitator is assertive and empathetic
A facilitator's role in the success of a workshop is critical; a facilitator creates the atmosphere, which facilitates i.a. creative and free ideation.
Service Designer Antti Kytö feels that one of a facilitator's key tasks is to motivate and inspire participants:
- A facilitator must, for example, be able to find a variety of inspiring content, which he or she can apply to help generate ideas in a workshop to help people recognise shared possibilities. Being successful in this task also requires that the facilitator has done his or her homework, the objective has to clear and the seeds of success must have been planted in advance, Kytö says.
- Your own energy level and sincere desire to help a group succeed also shines through. This cannot be faked, Kytö continues.
During the study unit, many student groups noticed how important it was that a facilitator take the reins in a group setting and boldly coordinate work in the desired direction.
Outi Kinnunen adds assertiveness to the list of characteristics a good facilitator must have.
- In addition to assertiveness, a facilitator must be empathetic. Facilitators must be able to read people and identify how each group works together, Kinnunen says.
- It is also about building a certain type of trust in the situation - the facilitator must view each participant as a person.
Antti Kytö feels the same way:
- All people are different. This is why a facilitator also gives the group's quieter members the opportunity to get their voices heard. Everyone has brilliant ideas and thoughts that would not necessarily come to light otherwise, he summarises.
Learn more about Master's Programmes in Laurea here. This article was originally published in Finnish in Laurea Kehittäjä magazine.