Blog > Facilitators can’t predict the outcome

May 23, 2010

Neither can anyone else. How on earth is it possible to bring together a group of people and predict how they will act, think or decide? It’s time to debunk this myth of facilitation – that the facilitator possesses some power over how people will react and can guide the group to a preferred (by whom?) position.

Johnnie Moore said this:

The more I work, the more I want to encourage people not to have a good time if they’re not having a good time and get away from the insane notion that somehow everyone should be aligned, having the same experience and (especially) having a great time. Learning is non-linear and it’s just stupid to imagine it should happen painlessly and on some predetermined schedule.


I think it would be good to start more meetings with the idea that it’s actually ok to have a crappy time and achieve nothing – to provide an antidote to the tedious pressure to be positive and productive and make mostly fake commitments to action at the end. If we don’t really embrace the possibility of failure, we may actually be killing off the space for success.

Earle Mardle wades in with this comment, reproduced here in full (because it’s so spot on):

I know some people hate this but the reality is that we are ALL making ALL of this up as we go along. There are NO repeatable experiences. Not ever. We live in a chaotic universe highly sensitive to initial conditions, if one of those conditions is that we have done something like this before, it can’t possibly be repeated.

And there is no way for any system, process, model, magic wand or frigging incantation to be able to predetermine the outcome of any interaction among any arbitrary number of people from any, repeat ANY set of so-called backgrounds.

Development comes from trust, confidence and getting over our fears.

Trust in ourselves and in others, confidence that they, and we, will be able to cope with the results of our screw-ups as well as our achievements.

And we are all afraid, every last single one of us. I regularly wake up in the morning with the thought in my head that we are “so screwed”. For me that is apparently the old North American Indian version of “its a great day to die”.

It seems to me that only as long as I remind myself every day about the potential for failure, small and big, that accompanies every single thing we do, only then can I get moving and start the day in the confidence that I have accepted that I don’t know the answers; much of the time I don’t even understand the questions, even if I can hear them.

Failure isn’t where we end, its where we start. Big deal. We need to get over it so we can have a life.

So where does that leave facilitators? It leaves us being honest about what’s possible, and with opportunities to provide people with experiences that are different from their everyday work in a way that throws light on whatever challenges they are facing. It’s not up to us to determine what they will discover, or what they will do with that knowledge, if indeed they ever find what they are searching for. Facilitation is not the answer – it’s an opportunity for people to connect and have conversations about what matters to them. Inevitably, this might be quite uncomfortable. To limit those opportunities by imposing a process or by channelling people to a particular outcome is to misuse the trust placed in us as facilitators.

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