Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Facilitate … Huh?

I see the blank look come into people’s eyes when I try to explain what I do as a facilitator.  Their reactions are funny and frustrating!  Over the years, I have tried to explain what facilitation is; have pondered what facilitation is; and laughed and snarled at the strange definitions given to facilitation.  In fact, my family still struggles to describe my work!

Here are some of the various weird and wonderful definitions I have heard or read:
  • Facilitating is like teaching kindergarten – trying to get all the noise and running going in the same direction.
  • Facilitation is helping a group nail the jelly to the wall!

The strangest definition I had heard was during an appointment with a new dentist many years ago.  He asked what I did for work and I replied that I was a facilitator.  He got a funny look on his face and asked me to tell him more.  After I explained my work, he laughed and shared this story.  One of his clients told him that she was a professional escort; however, since that profession is illegal, she always reported on her annual income tax statement that she was a facilitator!  Not quite the work that I do!

I have developed an elevator speech to explain facilitation which goes something like this:
  • I help people in groups to effectively talk about important topics, to reach beneficial decisions and to work together more effectively.
However, I have discovered that the best way to describe facilitation to others is to give them examples of discussions and conversations I have facilitated and hosted.  Then, I ask them about group discussions in which they participate at work, in community, as a volunteer.  Often, the conversation turns to situations in which they could have used a facilitator.  Their personal experiences help them understand what I do.

Here are a few definitions of facilitation that I like. 
  • Facilitation’s is generally considered to be a process in which a neutral person helps a group work together more effectively.
  • A facilitator's job is to support everyone to do their best thinking and practice. (Kaner, S. with Lind, L., Toldi, C., Fisk, S. and Berger, D. Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, (2007) Jossey-Bass)
  • At heart, facilitation is about the process of helping people to explore, learn and change. (Smith, Mark K. (2001; 2009) 'Facilitating learning and change in groups', www.infed.org/biblio/b-facil.htm)
  • The facilitator’s main task is to help the group increase effectiveness by improving its process and structure. (Schwarz, Roger M. (2002) The Skilled Facilitator: A Comprehensive Resource for Consultants, Facilitators, Managers, Trainers and Coaches. 2e. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.)

My facilitation blog questions are:  How do you define facilitation? What is the funniest or strangest definition you have heard?

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