I don't want to set myself up as the grand mugwump of facilitation - 10 years in I've got a lot to learn, but I have learnt a few things over the years from study, practice (and sometimes painful experience!), and from watching others work their craft. Here are 5 guidelines which I think are useful touchstones for any facilitator who works with individuals or groups to support awareness, learning, and growth.
- Trust the Process - some of us work within specific frameworks and processes in our facilitation. There's Appreciative Inquiry, The Samurai Game, World Cafe, Open Space technology, Arthur Hulls' drum circle, 5 Rhythms Dance (the Wave), Dialogue (a la David Bohm), Way of Council, and any number of others. Whatever framework you are using or even if you aren't using one at all and you are just holding an open space to support a group of people to share a conversation you need to trust the process. Whether there is a formal process or not, there is definitely a process going on. Human beings as individuals and groups have an innate wisdom which, given sufficient space and support, will surface. I think the greatest value of many of the frameworks I have used over the years is to give my conscious mind a task to get on with (i.e. setting the structure) so that the rest of me can focus on just getting out of the way! To use a favourite phrase from my seminary training "God does the work, I just make the tea." This 'making of the tea' is a great way to keep my ego happy doing a task while the greater part of my being holds a space, simply open to what needs to happen. In my experience there is a kind of underlying wisdom which some people call 'Grace' which will surface if only we make space for it. Set up the framework, then get out of the way.
- Don't talk too much - this isn't just about the physical act of talking. It's related to what I've just said about trusting the process: you've got to give people space to have their own experience. For some of us who take on a role as teacher, facilitator or workshop leader it can be hard to remember that we don't know what's best for everyone in the world! Luckily we don't need to. Give people space to have their own experiences and you'll be surprised at what they'll create for themselves. A well placed phrase can be the mark of a great facilitator (or teacher, or coach) but that well placed phrase should arise in a sea of silence!
- Don't try and make a 2 hour session into a 3 day workshop - most of us have been guilty of this at some point. We get excited, all these people want to come and have this experience with us and we want to give them our best stuff. Oh and there's that bit. And I can't leave out this other bit too. Oh and it needs to have a theme. Except my favourite bit doesn't fit with the theme now so maybe a theme with a sub-heading... You may be great at getting just the right balance of content but I still get over-excited sometimes! If you are just starting out or if you ever struggle with this, here's a rule of thumb: (a) think of what you want to do, (b) cut out anything that isn't 100% relevant to the group, setting and any theme if you have one - even if you love an exercise that doesn't mean it is always relevant! (c) do half of what is left with maybe one short exercise kept in reserve for if things go faster than you thought (and this rarely happens). If you are running a whole process that you can't structure in this way then just make sure you strip it back to the most essential components. The core thing here is not to over-stuff your time. One good process with space enough to reflect on and realise it's impact is better than 5 great processes half done and undigested.
- Participants are brilliantly stupid! - This is sort of a 2for1 point. Participants should be generally considered to be way sharper than you could possibly imagine. If you are hedging or trying to trick them, or have a hidden agenda they will smell it a mile off. Seriously, just lay your cards on the table and be totally open about what you're going to be doing and why. Anything else and they won't trust you or the process - or even possibly each other - they'll just be looking for what is going on 'behind the curtain' so-to-speak. The balance of this is that when you are setting up an exercise or process explain things with utmost clarity, do so at least twice using different language each time and ask people if they get it (and mean it when you ask it - you really are checking they understand, it's not just for show!). Describe it like you're doing the dummies version because anything you don't explain well enough will be mis-understood by at least 10% of the people in the room. This kind of explanation is actually well worth rehearsing so you can easily set the exercise up and describe it a number of different ways without thinking about it.
- Trust the Process - I've said it already but it really is worth mentioning twice. This is the key, and you may be seeing that all the others are just aspects of this really: Don't talk too much - let the process do it's work; don't overdo the content - choose the process well and then give it space; set the process up carefully and honestly and then get out of the way and let it do it's work. If you take nothing else away from reading this blog post please take this to heart - trust...the...process. In facilitation as in life you can't push the river.
May your lives and work be filled with grace and spontaneous wisdom. Thanks for reading.