People who are stepping for the first time into the role of the facilitator are keen to have a toolbox. They see the facilitator as magician pulling the right method at the right moment. Sure, a toolbox is handy; though not enough and not the most important element in becoming a facilitator. It is a little bit like a carpenter equipped with a fantastic toolbox. But without an eye for shapes, sizes and details, a strong problem-solving orientation, manual, math and communication skills as well some physical strength and practice, it will be difficult to build a perfect wooden house.
Being the facilitator is first of all a change of perspective, namely from content to purpose, people and process. And secondly, when we step into the role of the facilitator, we ARE the facilitator, and as facilitator we are the instrument ourselves, maybe even the most important one. That is what I tell participants in facilitation trainings. This can sometimes be a moment of consternation. I invite them to put the toolbox idea aside and go one step back for some groundwork.
Facilitators need a solid foundation in process knowledge of how groups work and learn together. My understanding is based on concepts as the theory U, the Cynefin framework, the diamond of participatory decision making by Sam Kaner (see my blog post the workshop’s movement), the 8 breaths process architecture by Art of Hosting, network mindset and the Hero Journey. There are many more of these models that underlay my process knowledge and inform my choices. I call them maps inspired by Chris Corrigan because they help me navigate the design and facilitation process.
Tools are important, but it didn’t take long to realize that tools themselves are not all that is required to do good group work. I learned that you have to have a few other things as well, including a basic underlying theory and some maps that seem to help us transect the territory between where we are and where we want to go.
As facilitators we are becoming experts for learning. The advantage and challenge at the same time is that our expertise is based on our own learning experiences. We all can look back to learning experiences; we were taught, trained, instructed and lectured for years. Reflecting on workplace learning is therefore a first important and necessary step (see Jane Hart). Sometimes, we have to let go of old models of learning (one way, instructive and passive) and shift to a collaborative, conversational and interactive model.
Facilitation is about collaboration. The facilitator supports the collaboration of a team, a group, a network, a community, an organization. The perspective of the people who are in a workshop, meeting or learning event is guiding the workshop. They are the actor and owner of their own learning, and they are contributing to the joint learning process of the group.
Facilitation is performing. Being the facilitator means wearing another sort of hat, performing another kind of role. We do this naturally by stepping into the role.
Becoming conscious of this step can be helpful. This is why the four-fold-practice is a useful reflection moment that makes facilitators realize different perspectives of hosting and being hosted.
All these aspects need our attention, before, during and after an event. Then, we add our toolbox and play with it.