What I’ve learned about facilitation

The art and skill of facilitation for me has been one of the core skills I’ve developed in my time as an L&Der. When I look back over the years, there have been several moments when I’ve known that facilitation as an enabler is a highly powerful way to work with a group of people.

I’ve invested in facilitation as a skill more so than any other L&D skill. In the early days it was being trained with Roffey Park – an institute in England who have deep expertise in several areas of people development stuff. I was on a 3 day training programme with them and learned how to design for stuff, how to develop an understanding of people and people processes and practise in very different ways.

I remember first experiencing Open Space as a facilitation technique at an OD conference and was wowed by it. Some years later I attended my first unconference and was re-introduced to it and to techniques such as World Cafe and the power of dialogue amongst groups.

With a fab group of Twitter people, I spent a day and half on a facilitation jam and really went deep with thinking on what facilitation means and how to be a facilitator. And years later I attended the Facilitation Shindig courtesy of the amazing Julie Drybrough. I attended the day focused on movement and was introduced to models on constellations and using Lego to represent relationships and the significance of positioning ‘pieces’ in certain places.

And in and amongst the last 6 years have facilitated and supported numerous unconferences where we’ve regularly played with facilitation techniques and invited people to experiment with us.

Last year I ran an open workshop and chose the role of facilitator as someone who just sat back and let the group very much self-direct what they needed and had the conversations that mattered to them. I’ve delivered hundreds of workshops over my time and continue to enjoy them when I get the time.

And digital has changed how we can enable facilitation. Being a virtual trainer/facilitator demands fundamentally different design and facilitation approaches to the digital environment. It’s been a steep learning curve ensuring that my virtual sessions are just as valuable learning experiences as in-person.

What I’ve realised amongst all this is that facilitation is one of those situations where I am at my best. The other is presenting. I take great pride and joy in delivering a great presentation and spend a lot of time thinking about this too. With facilitation I get to truly understand people. It’s where I draw everything I know about emotional intelligence, life, business, marketing, leadership, psychology, wellbeing, politics, and so much more and bring it all in one place. Not because I talk about all those things but because they are ever present.

Facilitation, for me, is a human process. It’s as much about bringing out the best in people as it is helping people move forward. Appreciating people for their input, truly valuing contribution means that I’ve learned how to help people discuss things openly and with care. Being with a group of others and having their time to move things on, that’s a privileged position to be in and one I always appreciate. Having the skill to understand the needs of a group, what their priorities are, and inviting them to collectively act, is pretty aces.


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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.

2 thoughts on “What I’ve learned about facilitation”

  1. Sukh, do you think there is a role for facilitation in digital experiences beyond the virtual classroom. I wonder if that is an interesting area to explore – not certain exactly what it might look like. Maybe that is more of a coaching role though (if there is a useful difference)?

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