Blog > The world needs more facilitators – lots more

October 6, 2008

I’m on my way to Wellington in New Zealand to deliver another of our facilitation training programs with my friend and business partner Anne Pattillo. For one reason or another there’s been a lot of people wanting to learn how to facilitate – and beyond the control style of facilitation (generally, where the facilitator is the centre of attention and controls the processes and actions of the participants) to a more collaborative approach where the facilitator brings a level of insight, care and attention to the participants to allow them to be in conversations, struggle, and find their own way forward.

I believe everybody needs these skills. This is not ‘secret facilitation business’ – it’s something the world needs to help us make our way out of the mess we find ourselves in. And if there’s no mess in your part of the world yet, just wait a little while, because it’s coming, one way or another.

One of the reasons I have this blog is to share some of my thoughts, learnings, questions and connections relating to facilitation, in the hope that it might be useful to others.

Dave Pollard recently attended Chris Corrigan’s Art of Hosting in Cananda and had this to say about the ‘new’ style of facilitation:

… this network of practitioners is global, powerfully connected, and driven to be of use, to make a difference, to make the world a better place. These people are not in any sense like the old style of facilitation consultants, who took instruction from senior executives with a predetermined agenda and pushed participants to deliver on it.

By contrast, practitioners of this new set of facilitation or ‘hosting’ techniques aspire to nothing more or less than to enable more effective conversations leading to peer-consensual decisions and self-selected follow-up actions. If the participants do not have the complete freedom to decide and to do what they in their collective wisdom know is right, then the responsible facilitator will simply refuse the assignment up front as a fraud.

It is hard to overstate how radical this is. It is a reassertion of democratic principles, personal responsibility, true empowerment and the wisdom of crowds. It is a rebuff to the infallibility and ‘greater wisdom’ of executives, managers, consultants and ‘experts’. Practitioners of these techniques can be catalysts for important and truly revolutionary change, and in large calcified organizations, public and private, it may well be the only way to bring about significant change at all.

Which is why many of us spread our work between facilitating and passing on those skills to others. Many of our participants have expectations of learning processes like recipes – do this, then this, then that. They are surprised when they find themselves instead learning how to be present, how to improvise, to empathise with ‘difficult’ behaviours, to use their bodies as a source of knowledge and to recognise and acknowledge the power of self-organising and the foundation that conversation alone provides. We aim to unearth this latent knowledge so as they can use any process intentionally, and continue to grow and develop as a facilitator. Over to Dave again who so brilliantly says what I often struggle to find words for:

The world needs these revolutionary facilitators, these artful hosts, and thousands, millions more like them, self-organizing, connecting, smashing learned helplessness, corpocracy, hierarchy, bureaucracy, and inertia.

Hear, hear.


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