Blog > Great facilitation – what is it?

October 25, 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 Even the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) Facilitator Competencies seems a bit outdated given the challenges we face.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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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