In the 2005 movie Coach Carter, Samuel L. Jackson plays a high school basketball coach challenged with developing his team into successful students, competitors, and citizens. He does this by holding them accountable to high standards: schoolwork, proper behavior, and a strong level of play. Most importantly, though, he holds them accountable to each other.
Perhaps the most moving scene in the movie occurs at a practice, where one player has failed to complete his punishment of running laps and doing pushups. Coach Carter informs him that he can no longer play on the team because he fell 500 pushups short of his goal. Just as practice ends, however, one player steps up and says, “I’ll do pushups for him. You said we’re a team. One person struggles, we all struggle. One player triumphs, we all triumph right?” The entire team joins in, collectively completing the punishment and uplifting their teammate.
This scene’s power comes from neither impressive athletic accomplishments nor an influential speech; rather, the team finds success through collaborative effort. The coach has built a culture of teamwork and accountability. A similar culture can make your responsible fatherhood program more effective.
Group facilitation is a crucial skill in delivering fatherhood services. By bringing participants together, you have the potential to create an accountable, trusting, supportive network of fathers. This skill involves thoughtful planning, preparation, and execution. Service providers must develop authentic, purposeful, and tailored programming that allows participants to actively engage with the material.
Here are five common traits of successful group facilitation:
1. Plan Purposefully
Quality programming starts with preparation. Facilitators with deep knowledge of their content can quickly build trust and credibility in a group setting. You will also be more effective if you have received training in any curriculum or approach you plan on using. Plan your lessons with the long-term goals of the program in mind; this will help you maintain clear, consistent messaging over time. While time-consuming, careful planning will allow you to stay organized, on task, and efficient in your sessions.
2. Get to the Point
Maintaining clearly defined objectives can make group facilitation much more effective. Present your goals and expectations using language and systems that all participants can understand. This will keep everyone accountable to the same standards, which is crucial when working with a group. Group contracts and flip charts are two ways to keep your message clear.
3. Engage the Audience
While group facilitators should be knowledgeable on the subject, they should also understand that there are other experts in the room. Continuously absorb information from your participants, and find ways to make their voices heard. Involve the audience through icebreaker activities, values voting, and reflection opportunities. Active group members will be more likely to learn from each other and buy into your messaging. Another consideration is the room set-up; create a welcoming environment that breeds collaboration, cohesiveness, and inclusion.
4. Be Authentic
When speaking in front of a group, it can be natural to change how you behave. You may feel nervous working with new people and after intense planning you might forget to be yourself. This basic concept can go a long way in successful group facilitation. Participants respond positively to an authentic, genuine speaker, and you will be more successful in creating group buy-in if your actions and words are from the heart.
5. Understand your Participants
When developing the goals and expectations for your group, consider the varying backgrounds of your participants. Cultures have differing views of fatherhood, which is important to your task. Get to know your participants’ experiences, faith, language, education, and traditions. This will help you better meet their needs and connect on deeper levels. You can build cultural competency through tailored curricula, group celebrations, and meaningful communication.
These five tips require practice and experience, but can enhance the success of your responsible fatherhood program. Similar to Coach Carter, assign group facilitators with the task of developing individuals’ character and skillsets. A great deal of this development will be done in group settings, and by creating a welcoming and engaging learning environment, you can take advantage of this opportunity.
National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse
Additional Resources on Group Facilitation
Responsible Fatherhood Toolkit: Facilitation
Working with Fathers in Groups: Tips to Enhance your Facilitation (Webinar)
Tips for Fatherhood Group Facilitators: A Video Resource Guide
Parents as Teachers fatherhood toolkit: “Facilitating Quality Father Groups”
Other Helpful Resources