Even after 15+ years of doing this work I still struggle to explain what it is. Once at a meeting of local business people I introduced myself as a facilitator and a woman asked what that was. I felt a bit jealous of her because she was an artist. She made big paintings of local seascapes. It was really easy to know who she was and what she did. As I was struggling to find words, another person jumped in and replied, “If you need a facilitator you know what that is, if you don’t, it doesn’t matter.” Probably true, but also not really helpful.
If I can’t describe what I do, how do I sell it?
This is probably a good time to declare that I have a blind spot when it comes to marketing (and accounting) – makes you wonder how I manage to stay in business!
Some of my facilitation colleagues like to say they make the work of groups easier. That’s a good selling point, I guess. Problem is, my style of facilitation usually doesn’t make things easier – if anything, it’s harder, or more confronting, even uncomfortable. I’m about disrupting patterns of thinking and behaving, connecting and re-connecting people with themselves, their feelings, their ideas, their potential, and with each other. It’s remarkable how little attention is given to this in most organisations, yet people are still expected to work together in teams, be productive, resolve conflicts, solve problems, be creative and innovate.
I liked this description by my friend Lisa Heft of ‘selling’ open space (for the uninitiated, just one form of facilitation) The emphasis is mine.
“I have found that – like one does not sell a hammer because a hammer is the most fabulous tool and should be used for everything – plumbing, sewing, cooking, carpentry… one does not sell Open Space for things. One simply analyzes context, task, time, deliverables, use, site, numbers of participants, and so many more things, then chooses the right dialogue tool. Right? I do believe / have found that no brochure or marketing materials explain facilitation in ways that clients seem to absorb. I find that people feel my enthusiasm for facilitation, see me at work, hear me tell stories – and get a ‘feel’ for me, experience something that works for them, feel it is a fit, remember me or that experience when a situation arises, and so on.”
This makes a lot of sense to me. I am not selling a tool or a process or a method or a product. I am making myself available to work with you. I happen to use facilitation as an approach because I’d much rather work with the people who do the work than analyse the work myself, write a report and leave it up to you to implement.