What is facilitation?

I never knew about facilitation being a skill I could learn and become really good at doing. When I got my first job, and I saw how the more experienced trainers would do this thing of facilitation, I just didn’t know what they were doing. Asking these great questions of the group, getting involved in discussions and really being part of the learning. Not this traditional lecturer or trainer, where you just get talked at for hours.

Facilitation, I learned, is about providing the right kind of environment for the needs of the group, and allowing them to find a path to get from here to there.

At first, I was thrust into models, certifications and accreditations. You had to learn about things like ice breakers, and energisers. About things like Myers Briggs Type Indicator and other personality assessments. Get accredited to run internal training programmes. I bloody loved all of it. All of these ways to understand the human condition that I have not learned about studying psychology at university.

As time went on, I learned there were a range of other skills that I personally brought to facilitation. The ability to listen and just allow someone to have their voice heard. How I sought to include everyone and bring the group forward. To not always have the answer, and trust the discussion was enough. Creating a safe and fun environment where thinking and learning can take place. How I could cede control and power to the group and trust them to do what they needed.

I also learned how to deal with my own anxieties towards facilitation. Preparation was a big learning for me in my early days, and is one I have to keep re-learning. When I don’t prepare well, things go to pot very quickly. Having really clear conversations with stakeholders about their expectations and what I was going to be doing. Learning about doing really good debriefs after a session so I could really reflect and think through what happened and what I wanted to do differently/better next time. Not to get fixated on small issues and keep an eye on the overall process.

And since technology started to make virtual options for learning delivery more accessible, learning how to adapt my skills to a virtual and digital format. Learning how to facilitate a group of people online, and get very used to the technology enabling me to understand their engagement. Learning how to use virtual and digital tools to get groups to think well together and collaborate without seeing each other.

And now I’m a local business owner, an operator of a coworking space, and really keen to see what I can facilitate in a very different context. I am actively thinking about how I can add to / build a community, and where my facilitation skills might be useful in different ways.

So, for me, facilitation has been about learning and developing skills of working and collaborating with people in a range of contexts. I’ve learned that you can’t just be trained in one set of models or only have one kind of accreditation. That there are many things at play when it comes to working with a group of people, and you and your own thinking is only one part of what they need – and very often, it’s their own thinking and process they need to work through with or without your involvement.

Actually, I’ve often found that getting the group from here to there, was really only ever one part of what they needed. The real work tends to happen once they’ve had their time for reflection and thinking after the session and they make their own independent decisions for what they do next.

Facilitators are not like coaches where we might have more active involvement in a decision-making process. Facilitators are the guides, and although we may a have a map of the terrain, where people go and the choices they make are completely in their own hands.

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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.

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