The art of the facilitator

At lunch yesterday with Jonathan Marshall, we were discussing face to face learning sessions and how these are evolving in their form. The art of the facilitator is moving from a place of trainertainment to a place of joint discovery.

As facilitators we’ve long known that it’s the discussion amongst the group that is the most powerful form of learning. People having proper dialogue with one another.

It is an art too. There’s no defined way of being able to facilitate well. It encompasses so much about the human condition. Listening well, probing questions, challenging opinions, voicing what’s being unsaid, developing thought. For most people these types of skills are a challenge to understand at all.

For facilitators we have to be mindful of so many factors too. What’s the context we’re in, who is in the room, who’s missing, what other agendas are at play, what are the pressure points, who’s directing behaviours, whose culture is being adhered to, where are beliefs coming from. These are all important factors, but not often taught. Not explicitly nor via instruction.

In the learning context, facilitation is moving towards a self-directed approach. Especially with technology enabling people to become savvy on topics in their own time, how do we facilitate highly effective learning sessions when the knowledge is already present in other forums?

Respecting the people we’re with to be able to own their problems, own their solutions, own their thinking, own their behaviours, these are all beliefs we as facilitators need to hold true. Otherwise all we’re doing is being lapdogs.

And there are many tools and techniques which support the facilitator to be effective. At the same time there are many communities of practise who keep this going with one another. Certainly I’m seeing more that independent facilitators are using social media to be able to connect with others and find new and better ways of working with each other and for clients.

Add to that the many growing theories of behaviour that are available to be understood better. Mindfulness. Positive Psychology. Neuroscience. Emotional Intelligence. 70:20:10. Time to Think. Vulnerability. What do we know of all these topics? What do they inform about the human condition? How can they help us facilitate better?

I learned a long while ago that facilitation takes time and it takes care. I’m a more confident facilitator today than I was yesterday. It’s a skill I hope to never lose. It’s a craft I deeply enjoy. It’s a way of working I find hugely enjoyable.


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

One thought on “The art of the facilitator”

  1. Lovely post Sukh. I’ve learnt my facilitation mostly by feel. When you say “there is no defined way to facilitate well”, I agree. I’m about to put this notion to a partial test though by going for the CPF (Certified Professional Facilitator) accreditation with the IAF. 50-odd competencies to be assessed against. Already it feels like I’m retro-fitting to what I’ve developed organically, however some are prompting some good reflection.

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