The best thing about best practice…

.. is the practice.

The “best”? Not so much.

I usually panic a little when people ask me about best practice in facilitation. I found myself emailing this to a client the other day (he was asking about training facilitators): People often say they want best practice as if there is a safe and official way to run meetings whereas I believe everything is contextual. On the whole I don’t really like giving people recipe cards; I prefer them to see the excitement and challenge of facilitation is to be willing to try new things not rely on established formulae and each time be willing to “fail” as gracefully as possible, and carry on.

I have a similar response to models. As a wise man once said, to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Following preset methods for running meetings may blinker us in the same way. I met an open source software developer a while ago. He said if he invented a hammer today, he wouldn’t suggest it was a tool for hitting nails; he’d have to give it to people and watch what they do with it with an open mind. There’s a moral in there somewhere.

So for me, facilitation is a practice. As in, you never stop experimenting, you never stop learning. And one of the things you get to keep practicing is making mistakes and not allowing that to stop you trying new stuff.

1 thought on “The best thing about best practice…

  1. Chris Mowles

    Hi Johnnie,

    Ah, the seductive power of so-called best practice! How good to read your challenge to this taken-for-granted aspect of conventional management thinking.

    A few months ago, whilst facilitating a workshop with a group of senior managers, I similarly questioned the value of this seemingly commonsense approach to performance improvement and organizational development ( The ensuing conversation drew a useful distinction between what might be called the logic and the magic of best practice.

    The conventional notion of best practice focuses exclusively on the logic – the formal, structured and visible aspects of what is assumed to be the source of the superior performance. But it’s the magic that makes the difference. That is, it’s from the largely hidden, messy and informal dynamics of everyday organizational life that the outcomes viewed as best practice actually emerge.

    But this magic can’t be “captured” and then transferred (e.g. via prescriptive models, processes or procedures) to other organizational settings. People must make their own, through the everyday conversations and interactions that they have with others, both within and ‘beyond’ the formal ‘boundaries’ of their work. That is, as you say, through their practice.

    Cheers, Chris.


    At the risk of being self-promoting, what do you make of this?


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