What facilitation isn’t, for me anyway

Facilitation means different things to different people. Viv does a great job of explaining one view of facilitation she doesn’t subscribe to. Me neither.

…the group participants sit back and watch the facilitator do all the work. They leave the workshop singing the praises of the facilitator who did such a great job of pulling all of their ideas together and coming up with a plan of action (or some other ‘output’). The facilitator worked hard has great insight as to how the group works and takes away armloads of paper to type up into a report.

Another popular idea of facilitation is the TV model – where we’re expected to be some kind of David Dimbleby, acting as the conductor through which all ideas are to be channelled and interpreted. A related pitfall is to end up as the person frantically scribing everything on flipcharts, often a very bad role to be stuck with.

3 thoughts on “What facilitation isn’t, for me anyway

  1. Ray Poynter

    Hi Johnnie, I think there are times where Viv’s description is what a client might need. When the client has a specific problem and the solution needs to be dragged out of them, it is fine.

    If the session is supposed to develop the people as well as answer the problem, then I agree with you and Viv.

    One grim truth is that there is probably more money in working in the way Viv describes, or in the David Dimbleby way.

    Of course, the other problem (potentially) is that when you facilitate in your preferred way the client ends up saying, “Hey, we solved the problem ourselves, why did we spend money on a facilitator?”

    Best regards


  2. Johnnie Moore

    Hi Ray, thanks for the counterpoint.

    I can’t honestly imagine a situation in which I would want to go into a facilitation with the aim of dragging a solution out of people. That seems to assume that I am gifted with knowing the solution in advance and just need to create some convoluted way to have them semi-come up with it themselves.

    I think it’s worth asking ourselves:

    1. What kind of people are we making the participants when we frame facilitation in such a way?

    2. And what sort of person are we making ourselves when we do that?

    I have often reflected on the financial issue you describe. There may well be more money in the Dimbleby route, if you happen to be a Dimbleby.

    On the whole, I think most clients do realise that something useful but intangible is created by a facilitator who isn’t doing lots of big noisy interventions.

    Again, I think we need to ask ourselves how we want to treat the participants – as truculent children to be manipulated, or as creative adults with soome goodwill and a desire for things to work? I contend that this choice itself will have a significant impact on what happens.

  3. Geoff Brown

    For me Johnnie, it is the assumptions we make of participants and of ourselves before we enter the room that ‘frame’ our facilitation approach.

    I admit to subscribing to the description that you quoted from Viv in my earlier years … As time goes on I (thankfully) move further from that worldview.

    As for solutions being dragged out of groups with problems (by the facilitator), we might feel like our presence and processes are responsible for group insight – I dont subscribe to this assumption either.

    I like the fact that the more I facilitate, the less I do … and the less applause I receive.



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