A good facilitator is content neutral. Their role is to design and guide the people and process, not contribute towards the content.
Two quick stories to begin…
I recently observed a novice facilitator get frustrated with the group he was facilitating, he almost looked like he was angry. The responding body language in the group looked defensive, the group seemed to close…
I watched another facilitator run a session at a conference, time seemed to be passing faster than he might have planned and he began to be increasingly unhappy at the pace, with ever more forceful urges to ‘speed-up’, and ‘move on’. The group began to feel rushed and uneasy… Facilitators have enormous influence over a groups work and effectiveness and the two brief stories above try to illustrate negative unintended consequences of facilitators presence. In both of the cases above I’m sure the facilitators did not intend to take participants away from the content - yet their presence began to get in the way and alter, not-for-the-better, the groups energy and focus.
During the facilitation training I run at SeriousWork I propose that a facilitator should sometimes have a *big and commanding presence* and sometimes a facilitator should be *invisible* as far as the group is concerned.
But how do you know when to have big presence and when to be invisible? This is a hard question, but three obvious times to have a big presence are:
Times when a BIG Presence is helpful
Beginnings - getting the groups attention and gathering at starts (managing time)
Setting or clarifying tasks or instructions (managing tasks)
Helping the group communicate with each other (managing communication)
Note these three are in service of group process, NOT in service of the facilitators ego.
Times when SMALL or INVISIBLE Presence is helpful
When ‘the work is happening’ - if the work /conversation /progress is happening this is a good time to step back
When people need time to assimilate or process experience or understanding
When breakthroughs or heart to heart communication arises
Knowing when to have small (or even invisible) presence requires awareness of constantly shifting group energy or focus and awareness of self to know what the likely impact of a facilitators interventions will be.
A mantra we love at ProMeet is “Facilitate the people not the process”, this reminds us that the people are more important than the planned process and that workshop process should always change if it is not meeting the needs of the people.
Facilitation is as much about knowing when to not intervene as it is being a commanding presence.
Very good piece of reading Sean, I enjoyed it a lot
👍🏼 Next to experience and awareness, this has also much to do with emotional and situational intelligence of the facilitator, I believe. https://t.co/z4R8lBGF9V— Pinar Akkaya (@PINARAKKAYA) July 23, 2019
"International Facilitation Week takes place each year during the third week of October. Its purpose is to showcase the power of facilitation to both new and existing audiences and to create a sense of community among facilitators and their groups worldwide.
Since its launch in 2013, the week has become a spark that ignites activities around the world to highlight the benefits of facilitation, the gifts of facilitators and the comradeship of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF)."
It's the IAF Facilitation Week, and as with every year I love finding out new stuff and getting inspired by other facilitators. Personally, I think Twitter is a great place to see what's going one, search or use the hashtag #FacWeek.
Having been facilitating workshops for about 20 years, I recently reflected on what is facilitation when I was asked to run a masterclass for a facilitation academy in Helsinki.
I asked myself what are the key lessons about facilitation I would teach my younger self? Here's my six lessons on successfully facilitating meetings and workshops:
1. Plan with an outcomes focus
People don’t want meetings or facilitators. They want outcomes. I approach every assignment with a focus on outcomes, part 2 of the book I wrote about facilitation is all about outcomes. How to understand what they are, how to articulate them and how to use outcomes to plan facilitation process is a core skill, maybe THE core skill.
Lesson 1 means three things:
- The contracting / preparation phase is key. - Understanding what is really needed is at the heart of this activity. - This skill is as important as facilitation - maybe more important than 'front-of-room' facilitation skills
2. Understand the cultural, emotional and political currents beneath the surface
Management guru, Peter Drucker, famously said "Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast". For facilitators, we fail to take time to understand the cultural, emotional and political currents beneath the surface at our potential cost.
Lesson 2 means really one thing, in this case said in three ways!
- Understand actions are guided by thoughts and values - The invisible shapes the visible - Take time to understand these things!
3. Preparation takes longer than delivery
In my experience it usually takes longer to prepare for a workshop than facilitate it. This is not always the case, but certainly high stakes, high risk strategic workshops are very likely to require more preparation time than delivery time. Workshops are expensive. The time people take out of a business costs a lot, and the impact of a productive workshop (or a highly unproductive one) can be huge.
Lesson 3 means …
- Workshop design is a key skill - Translating objectives into workshop process, taking cultural, political, emotional into account - Good facilitators have many tools at their disposal (and are process / tool neutral. As a facilitator who sometimes uses LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® I like it when clients enquire if I favour any particular tool. My answer is always no, I'm outcome driven, and tool neutral).
4. Own the workshop. Take responsibility for what happens. Be the (participatory) leader
When I facilitate I assume that I'm responsible for the outcome. With this mindset I assume it is my job to be a 'participatory leader' and have the participants to interact with the subject-at-hand and each other in the best way possible that achieves the outcome. My job is not about content (otherwise I'd be a consultant, not a facilitator) it is about outcome driven process.
Lesson 4 means …
- Understand the tremendous power of orchestrating or choreographing participation. This is a subtle power that might at times be invisible to participants, as they are absorbed by the content (and each other).
5. Facilitate the people not the process
In 2006 I facilitated a two day workshop for one hundred head teachers. My client team at the Governments 'Department for Education' included a wonderful man called David Jackson. I carefully planned a workshop process and during the workshop kept the participants on track with that process.
At the end of the workshop David offered me the feedback that I should 'facilitate the people not the process'. This lesson has become a core idea for me… and whilst I plan carefully (as in 3 above!) I now abandon the plan if it is not meeting the emergent needs of a group.
Lesson 5 means …
- Don't "be a slave" to your carefully prepared plan - Develop and grow your awareness about what a group needs as a process unfolds and if something important emerges, be ready to drop, abandon or modify what you had planned. - Invest in developing new skills and adding new tools to your 'facilitator tool box'
6. Welcome and value participation (no matter what kind it is)
The most important 'guiding principle' I use as I design and facilitate meetings is the principle of participation. It is the core idea or value that good facilitators hold.
Lesson 6 means …
- Facilitators must welcome participation no matter what its guise. If this shows up as joy or anger, a smile or a tear it is all equally welcome. To do otherwise is to not invite participation.
Four other lessons As I pondered what I had learnt in many years as a facilitator the six lessons above seemed like the main advice I would give my younger self. Four other tips I might offer are: Speak slowly and clearly - especially in multi-lingual events where English is not everyone's first language.
Big presence / small presence - know when to be large… and when to be almost invisible.
Create relatedness - even before the workshop begins, as people arrive, creating a sense of relatedness can be the difference that makes the difference.
Give responsibility / autonomy - empowering participants to take responsibility for what happens in the workshop will have dividends after the workshop.
Most of the images above are taken from a book about facilitation called SERIOUSWORK. Disclaimer. I wrote most of it. You can download a good chunk of it free at http://www.serious.global
IAF is a global association of over 1500 competency certified professional facilitators. It aims to promote the power of facilitation and drive up professional standards. It's a wonderful community and we have learnt a huge amount though becoming certified, attending conferences, and participating in MeetUps.
A new development. IAF has been developing a 'Pro-Path', essentially adding two new tiers of membership, a 'mentored' level for people new to the profession and a 'senior or master' level for facilitators who already have attained "Certified™ Professional Facilitator or CPF" status.
It will all roll out next year, but to get the headlines of this 'pro-path' you can watch this short video.
The written evidence is assessed against the six core competencies and successful candidates are then invited to the CPF assessment which consists of two interviews and candidates must facilitate a peer reviewed demonstration workshop. Read More...
IAF Regional Director Trevor Durnford and IAF Member Bruce Rowling present Sean Blair with the Facilitation Impact Award.
LEGO®, Dialogue and new meeting tools help leading college get a top UK value added score ProMeet together with client, Brighton, Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College (BHASVIC) have received a Facilitation Impact Award from the International Association of Facilitators (IAF). Read More...