If you find yourself responsible for leading teams—of any size—toward better outcomes, then chances are you have stepped into the role of facilitator at some point.
But what does it mean to be a facilitator? Even though the word is frequently used, its meaning varies enormously in different settings. Sometimes it’s used to describe the person who booked the room, ordered the pizza, and invited everyone to the meeting. Other times, the facilitator is the person who makes the decisions and leads the meeting. However, while a facilitator might do the former, a true facilitator would not do the latter. A facilitator would not be the one making the decisions unless they also have another set of responsibilities, such as being the team leader or manager. If that is the case, the decision gets made while they are wearing their other hat.
Before we begin to talk about facilitation, let’s align on what we mean when we use the word “facilitator.”
A facilitator is an individual who uses self-awareness, self-management, group awareness, and group process to enable teams to access their collective intelligence in order to achieve their desired outcomes.
In other words, facilitation is not just about what tool or technique you are applying. Just as much, if not more, it is about what you believe, who you are being in the moment, and what you see and sense in the group.
I would much rather be a participant in a group that is being led by a grounded, self- and group- aware facilitator than someone who has a toolkit packed with techniques but no idea about their personal impact in the room. Why? Because the grounded, aware facilitator will be able to adapt almost any technique to fit the group, while the person armed only with the toolkit will struggle to engage the group in meaningful dialogue or decision-making—regardless of the tool they choose.
Now, you might be thinking, “I lead meetings all the time, so I don’t need to learn how to facilitate. Of all the things I could spend my time learning, facilitation is low on my priority list.”
But here’s what you need to consider:
- ● Are your meetings effective?
- ● Do they get to the group’s desired outcome?
- ● Are difficult topics surfaced and talked about within the group, or do they go “offline”?
- ● Do decisions stick, or do you revisit the same conversation each week?
If your meetings are working, then great! If not, are you willing to look at how you, as a meeting leader, might be playing a part in the breakdown?
Facilitation matters. It is more than just sticky notes and dots for voting. It is a craft. Our reality is socially constructed, which means that how we talk to and with one another—the words we use, the way we speak, the metaphors that describe our ideas—all inform the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of our work. Teams do not typically have the ability or skill to talk with each other productively without practice. This is the promise of facilitation.
Facilitation is both an art and a science. The science comes from what we know about how people think—how groups behave and teams develop. The art is how the facilitator learns to dance in the moment—seeing what’s happening in a group, hearing what’s behind the way the group talks with one another, listening for what’s not being said, and letting the magic of the group’s collective intelligence organically emerge.
If you’re ready to step up as a true facilitator—someone with range in their leadership who can take a stand against dysfunctional patterns in communication and collaboration—then this book is for you.