Group Facilitation in a Networked World

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 1999


Group support systems (GSS), initially developed to support problem-solving groups in face-to-face meeting settings, are extending their capabilities to support meeting participants separated geographically and temporally, as a result of advances in networking systems and application software. Facilitation is viewed as an important factor in the success of face-to-face GSS meetings. This article explores the role of the meeting facilitator in assisting distributed group meetings supported by various technologies. Interviews with 34 practicing facilitators reveal their concerns and expectations regarding benefits and limitations of distributed GSS (DGSS). The interview results offer useful insights to DGSS designers, researchers, and practitioners. The facilitators’ concerns include potential loss of non-verbal signals in addressing group process issues such as participation and conflict resolution, while they perceive that DGSS can offer benefits such as focusing and structuring. The facilitator’s role is likely to continue to include serving as a change agent, while evolving from individual meeting manager to that of project manager, participant trainer, and technology enabler. Traditional facilitators will likely have to increase their skill and comfort with information technology, as well as adjust and adapt to new tools and methods for accomplishing their traditional tasks.

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