I’m working with a group that intends to offer facilitation training to its group of global professionals. They have conviction that if they could facilitate better, all of their meetings and gatherings would be that much more powerful.
I agree, but first, I have a question for them. I want to know what they really mean by facilitator.
If I put facilitation experiences on a spectrum, I might envision it like this: on one side is a facilitator that has an agenda, and on the other is a facilitator whose agenda is to see what’s within the group, pulling out insights that are fresh, not thought of beforehand.
All along the spectrum, facilitation skills can be used. But for the facilitator that is advancing a belief, a view or an agenda, skill and persuasive ability becomes less about facilitation and more about leadership: setting the tone in a room so that you can bring the members around the table to consensus. Also on this side is the teacher: a teacher can lead a group so artfully that the members around the table experience material and concepts so deeply that the lessons are internalized forever. This also takes skill and ability, but it is not exactly facilitation.
The facilitation we hope to create for this group is different: the listener, the rapid synthesizer, and the guide, all in one. The person who can use tools in an almost invisible way but still be the “adult in the room” taking care of the conversation. This person is aiming to have every voice heard. This person helps built up ideas into greater insights. This person asks questions “is this what you mean”? This person connects relationship between two seemingly unrelated statements. This person interrupts to keep the ideas moving, and calls on others to draw out, but this person is mostly quiet. This person formulates possible conclusions or statements to drive the group to check-in “are we saying that…?”. This person holds the space and pronounces completion when the work is done.
Every meeting has a facilitator, whether it's stated or not. Your facilitator could be the person who talks the most and commandeers the meeting. Next time, see if you can take on this role of the listener, the rapid synthesizer, and the guide, and give yourself an insightful meeting worth sitting down for.