Great facilitation – what is it?


October 25th, 2010

For a long time now I’ve been honing my skills as a facilitator, and sharing those with others through facilitating workshops, training and mentoring. It’s been a rewarding journey, full of hard work, surprises, laughs, and sometimes, tears.

And despite reaching a certain level of competence, of continually building on existing skills and knowledge, and learning new ways of facilitating groups, I’ve had a growing sense of unease, of dissatisfaction, and a longing for something else. I’ve looked at offerings at various facilitation conferences and felt a vague sense of deja vu.

So I’ve been experimenting with different forms of facilitating, using physical play, space, connecting with feelings, conversations, relationship building, silence and reflection, spontaneity, drama and laughter. It’s experimental, so not everything works every time. But it works often enough for me to reconsider my role as a facilitator. Tools, techniques and processes are useful but not, for me, at the core of facilitation. Even the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) Facilitator Competencies seems a bit outdated given the challenges we face. Here’s what I believe is fundamental to facilitation in today’s world.

Empathy
This is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of the participants, to realise that they probably have done this sort of thing before, that they have their own ideas and want an opportunity to talk with each other. It’s about ‘knowing’ in a completely different way what the group needs and wants at this time.

Humility
This is recognising the power you have as a facilitator and letting it go, and to be comfortable not being the centre of attention. In fact, it’s about actively ensuring that you are not the centre of attention, and recognising the ideas that emerge from elsewhere.

Bravery
Taking risks, disrupting patterns of thinking or behaving requires strength, especially when it goes against the norms of meetings, the expectations of clients and participants, and the urge to conform and be safe. It requires bravery to break the rules and change the game.

Playfulness
We have difficult, complex problems to deal with. We have lives to live and work to be done. This doesn’t mean that it can’t be done lightly and playfully. Playfully exploring our most difficult questions can lead us to surprising results.

Collaboration
Results, answers, creativity, innovation – whatever it is we’re looking for – resides within all of us. Facilitation is a collaborative exploration with the group.

Responsiveness
Noticing what’s happening now – being present to, and for, the group, and responding using all that empathy and humility and bravery and playfulness and collaboration. This is what great facilitation is about.


7 Comments so far

  1. Tweets that mention Viv McWaters -- Topsy.com on October 25, 2010 6:33 pm

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by H and Viv McWaters, sreid. sreid said: Great take on the essence of facilitation RT @vivmcw Beyond tools and techniques. What does great facilitation need? http://bit.ly/cg5YRY […]

  2. Online Community Management Links Roundup 29/10/10 | Community Management | Blaise Grimes-Viort on October 29, 2010 7:39 pm

    […] Great facilitation: what is it? […]

  3. Viv McWaters on November 21, 2010 4:00 pm

    […] is why I am increasingly looking at ways to bring these qualities into facilitation training: empathy, humility, bravery, playfulness, collaboration and […]

  4. What is great facilitation? « on January 1, 2011 5:38 pm

    […] This post below, which I have cut and pasted in its entirety, is by Viv McWaters, an Australian blogger/facilitator etc. I think it is a very useful starting point for a discussion about facilitation… For a long time now I’ve been honing my skills as a facilitator, and sharing those with others through facilitating workshops, training and mentoring. It’s been a rewarding journey, full of hard work, surprises, laughs, and sometimes, tears. […]

  5. Dwight Towers on January 1, 2011 5:40 pm

    Hey Viv,

    I have cross posted this brilliant post of yours (with attribution and link!)
    to here
    http://dwighttowers.wordpress.com/2011/01/01/what-is-great-facilitation/

    and have emailed some of my friends and asked them to comment…

    best wishes

  6. Viv McWaters on January 4, 2011 8:57 am

    […] you’ve been reading my recent posts here and here and here you’ll know I’ve been rethinking facilitation in general and facilitation training in […]

  7. Catching up…. | rhizome: participation|activism|consensus on January 5, 2011 1:51 am

    […] Great facilitation – what is it? In which Viv talks about the qualities of great facilitation – empathy, humility, bravery, playfulness, collaboration and responsiveness. It’s a good list illustrated with good comments. […]

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