Monday, January 31, 2011

Facilitate ... as “a way of being”

A bag of tools and tricks?! I know facilitation is much more! From conversations I have held, I think that some individuals view facilitation as tools, techniques, and methods. Knowing and being able to lead “get acquainted” activities, guiding group members through a particular discussion technique, and offering fun energizers are examples of what many people see as facilitation.

I believe facilitation is much more! It is a way of behaving based on sound beliefs and philosophies which in turn support approaches and methods. I am currently reading a book that speaks profoundly to me about this fundamental underpinning of facilitation. Larry Dressler in his book “Standing in the Fire: leading high-heat meetings with clarity, calm and courage” speaks of the WHAT, the HOW, and the WAY OF BEING of facilitation. Quoting from Dressler,

“The What is the content of the gatherings we facilitate, which includes the purpose, questions, challenges, and possibilities that matter most to the people in the groups we serve

The How is the structures, methods, skills, and techniques we use to help a group mobilize its collective energy, insights, and commitment to action.

The Way of Being is who we are being while we are working with a group. It is an attitudinal, emotional, physical, and even spiritual presence.”

The What or content is normally “owned” by the group members with the facilitator adding content expertise and advice only as agreed upon with the group members. When appropriate, I ask a group if I can “take off my facilitator hat” and provide content information in more of a consulting role.

The How is what I as a facilitator primarily does. I bring my ability to help groups to discuss complex and important content in meaningful, respectful, and beneficial ways. My ability to effectively perform the How depends on my ability to “be with the group”.

How do I bring my presence or way of being to a group? Many ways of thinking and behaving create my way of being. Here are some – the tip of the iceberg:

• Thinking of the group members, as individuals and as the group, before I reach the gathering. Where are they coming from? What are they leaving to attend? What might they want to achieve? What can I do to work with them to create a challenging and safe environment?
• Using opening and closing conversations to help the group members share who they are, why they are participating, what they contribute, and what they take away with them
• Constantly reflecting throughout the conversations with the group about what is happening; staying calm; openly acknowledging what I observe and feel; and inviting group members to do the same. I hold a quick internal dialogue with myself such as: What do I see or hear? What might it mean for the group? How would talking about it help the group?
• Facilitate what is happening, rather than what I think should or could happen. Respecting the group and its members to know what they need to talk about. Be in the “here and now”; not the past or future.
• Being silent when I do not need to speak. Helping the group hold necessary silence.
• Thinking about when to do nothing. Resisting the urge to act, to do something.
• Knowing when to do something! To me, this is usually providing a group with the implications of its discussion and actions, e.g. Talking about this new topic will take at least an hour. What aspects of our current conversation topics do we wish to adjust to allow this new topic?
• Having fun! Creating moments of fun! Yes, energizers are great!

My facilitation blog question is: What do you do as a facilitator to be present with a group; to nurture your “way of being?”


  1. Great blog, Barb. As usual, I learnt something new and important. Thanks for sharing the info...still think you need to write a blog on being the facilitating mentor!

  2. Barb, you have such a wealth of knowledge and experise. In answer to your question, I try to listen to the group but often find that hard when there are so many different voices to hear. I find your advice extremely helpful and am very gratefull that you shared some concrete steps to successful facilitating. I will be using your advice in my work. Thanks for your blog post.