Case Studies

SYFS Impact

The foundation of the Strengthening Your Facilitation Skills (SYFS for short), Level 1 Curriculum is a dynamic and comprehensive Five-Lesson facilitation Training Series.

Since 2001, Maine citizens have participated in the SYFS, Level 1 Training Series developed by Jane Haskell, Louise Franck Cyr, and Gabe McPhail and offered by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in county Extension offices, schools, and community centers.

SYFS, Level 1 Training Series “graduates” report they now:

  • Invest more time in meeting preparation
  • Clarify the purpose of meetings
  • Get more participation from group members
  • Provide an environment that allows better communication between group members
  • Observe less diverging from tasks
  • Design more organized and structured meetings which lead to increased meeting efficiency and greater meeting outcomes
  • Contract with groups and set working agreements
  • Regularly donate facilitation time to hundreds of meetings in the community or with organizations or agencies

“Graduates” also report their groups have:

  • Moved from “slumps” and times of little clarity to understanding their purpose
  • Had the most productive annual meetings in their histories
  • Learned to handle conflict more successfully

Specific SYFS Case Studies

Here’s what “graduates” are saying about the SYFS, Level 1 Training Series:

“I think a lot of progressive groups for years have had meetings for the sake of meeting and have not necessarily taken the work to the next level. At one time progressive groups met, planned the action and they did it. As that generation aged, it seemed that the tendency was to just think that meetings were the end goal. We need to get past just having meetings and get to our goals.”

– Community member who participated in the training with the goal of facilitating progressive groups to be productive and effective

“Before I took this training, I tended to feel personally responsible for moving a meeting from start to finish. Now, I basically have a very hands-off approach. If I am facilitating, I’m simply guiding the group through the agenda, I ask probing or clarifying questions to help get them back on track, help with decision making and restructuring the meeting with the group to help it move forward. I am basically a tool through which the group reaches the desired outcome. I am no longer the person responsible for that desired outcome–which I felt prior to the training. It’s really the group’s time. As a facilitator, I am simply a tool to guide them through a process.”

– Participant who works with various community groups

“I don’t facilitate the organic farmers when we are in Central America since the meetings are conducted strictly in Spanish. Up here, I did facilitate and there were comments afterwards on what a productive meeting it was. Comments came from legislators, the commissioner and other staff from the Department of Agriculture. They recognized that it was a well done, well un and a productive meeting.”

– Participant who works with members of a Maine-based group of organic farmers affiliated with organic farmers from El Salvador

“Before the training, I didn’t understand group dynamics. I did not have enough insight or respect for people as individuals to know that everyone was there because they needed to be for some reason. The training created an awareness of how we need to observe, how we deal with people, how we respect people, how we make things happen, how we communicate, of how meetings can be structured, the role of the facilitator, the role of group members, being aware of and respectful of other people’s learning styles and making sure that everyone is engaged and of being more respectful of meeting fundamentals, like time and ground rules. I feel like knowing the facilitation process and knowing how a facilitator behaves allows me to be a better group member because I am much more respectful of the process, of other people and the facilitator.”

– Participant who is a community group member

“Since I’ve taken the training, we (the group) came on board with our working agreements. We also have a time keeper. I asked that we also have a vibe-watcher, a person who can step in when emotions are high and getting in the way of us moving. I also started a committee with one group that we called our education committee. One of its jobs in the first year was to look at our group process. I could see there was a process, but I could identify where the process could be improved. From that we developed a directory that came from my involvement in the facilitation training. I know I impacted the group in a very positive way.”

– Participant who facilitates a local non-profit group

Participants in the SYFS, Level 1 Training Series have been placed in facilitation roles and are expected to help their groups produce results.

“To me, the goal of facilitation seems to be to afford people the opportunity they are looking for, which is to get together in groups. As a facilitator, with awareness and capability, I can offer an environment to those people within the community to have their desired outcome developed. I think that everything put together, the skills, the structure of the meeting, whatever; it’s basically offering the group the opportunity to own the meeting, to own the outcome. That’s where the energy is created within the group. It’s the group going from Point A to Point B or maybe all around the map and owning the process themselves. It’s respecting the group and affording the group the opportunity to have its own process and I think that, ultimately, that’s what the magic is–it is the group process.”

– Participant who works with various community groups

“I have been and am in many groups. With some, I feel like I am a learning member, just an exploratory member, always on my learning edge. I watch how I entered a group, how the group moves as a result of what I said, and get a sense of group dynamics. Through the facilitation training, I learned that the way I act in the world (and in groups) is more concrete sequential. It has been helpful to know more about other learning styles, see them in action and feel more comfortable both in a leadership and group member role. I took the training because I wanted to be better in groups, to learn valuable skills, to learn how to better facilitate, to help the groups I was in work better. I am now a better facilitator and when I do facilitate I share it; it’s helped me be a better group member.”

– Community member who participated in the Training

“With one group, where there was a dominating person, I helped them realized that there were different learning and thinking styles, and that as a board we were having a hard time with people who acted in a random abstract way. I helped them know that the ways people acted in meetings were not good or bad, it was just a way of being in the world. I learned how to take the focus off the person, how to structure the meetings so that everybody buys into the group, how to list what we all agreed on, how to agree how we are going to run the group and how the group is going to behave.”

– Participant who works with a not-for-profit advisory board

“When I took on a leadership role in one group, it had horrible, dysfunctional, frustrating meetings. They didn’t know how to do it, didn’t know how to listen. People were derogatory, others rolled their eyes, people took up lots of time. There were all kinds of behavior patterns that were the result of not knowing how to deal with things in meetings. I set up meeting designs so that people could be heard and contribute. When we finished one meeting, where people had heard, felt they had been heard, hadn’t felt browbeaten, one person came up and almost kissed my feet because she had watched the board struggle with dysfunction for so long. So, now we have a lot more time and energy to actually get things done rather than having our energy being taken up by the dynamics of the meeting. We’re more efficient, more focused, more able to be focused. We work together. There’s a good feeling at the end of the meetings. Meetings are well attended. We have a sense of satisfaction when we leave rather than going away frustrated.”

– Participant who works with a community group