A recent trend that has emerged this year since we published our annual trends report is the renewed interest in facilitation skills. We are getting more requests than ever from companies, individuals, and small groups looking for classes that give people an opportunity to learn and practice facilitating events of various types.
Why all the interest now?
Perhaps organizations are relying less on management layers and more on self-organizing orientations to work groups. This would suggest that more people may be finding themselves working with others and expected to get something done without a mandate from higher ups.
Or maybe it’s about tempo. How fast are external variables that impact your business changing these days? The need for more business agility means we need to find and solve problems faster than ever. Facilitation is making good use of people’s time to accomplish a goal with as much, and only as much, as you need. Good tools like the ones we teach are easy, scalable, and tailorable so you can pull them out and use them anytime, anywhere.
Or the facilitation frenzy could be about the need for what distinguishes a facilitator from other types of leaders: neutrality. In a world that seems fueled by deeply entrenched and vociferously articulated positions, it seems downright ironic that there’d be interest at all in facilitation.
Whatever the drivers, the “current” pulsing through these and other factors is Agile.
Collaborating to solve problems. Tempo. Simplicity. Focus on the goal. All these values, expressed in the Agile Manifesto, capture what Agile organizations embrace as part of their work culture and approach to achieving business goals. They are also the values that workers and team members are increasingly looking for in their places of employment. Facilitation is essential in an Agile environment that is driven by collaborative approaches to solving complex problems amid uncertainty. It’s a tool for operationalizing the Agile values and principles.
And what if you aren’t using any Agile methods? You still likely have conflicts that need to be resolved and differences to capitalize on among team members. In fact, you don’t have to have a single toe on any Agile path to take advantage of what good facilitation skills can contribute to your organizational effectiveness. Ensuring that everyone feels invited to the table of ideas to share openly in a safe environment is at the heart of good facilitation. And there is no organization or team that doesn’t benefit from that.
A key ingredient in all of this is the facilitator. Anyone who works on projects or solves problems can play this role. Good facilitators share many things in common, and below are three that we get consistent feedback on as the most essential:
As mentioned, what makes someone a facilitator rather than session leader is their lack of investment in the outcome. Good facilitators don’t care what the results of the session are; what they do care about is that the group gets the results they need. It’s not as easy as you think and there are subtle ways people violate this cornerstone of good facilitating.
Good facilitating is hard work because you constantly must be gauging the audience and adjusting your style and tactics to respond to the group. Are they not talking? Are they communicating but lack focus? Are they frustrated? All those signs require diligence and sensitivity to stay in tune with the group and adjust on the fly as necessary. It often means using tools that may not be your preference, but that will meet the needs of the group.
One thing people often assume is that if you are comfortable in front of a group, you will necessarily be able to facilitate well. But here’s the thing: It’s not about you. In fact, when you are facilitating well, the participants don’t even know you’re there. So, you can be a great speaker or leader, but if you don’t take the time to prepare, the people in the session are definitely going to notice you — but for all the wrong reasons! There are many components to preparing for a facilitated session and the time spent getting ready will be returned many times over when you get into the session.
Hopefully, you are ready with lots of tools to help you be flexible and in the right mindset the next time you are asked to facilitate a meeting, workshop, or session. Good luck and I’d love to hear what has worked best for you when facilitating.