Do facilitation skills help your career?

June 23, 2015

Facilitation skills may be the secret sauce!

I’ve certainly had my share of good and bad moments as a leader and professional, but I think my best moments have happened when I’ve been in a facilitative leader mind set.

Umm.. what?

Merriam-Webster defines facilitator as: “one that helps to bring about an outcome by providing indirect or unobtrusive assistance, guidance, or supervision”. Roger Schwarz defines it as “…substantively neutral… intervenes to help a group improve the way it identifies and solves problems to make decisions”. The International Association of Facilitators (IAF) defines the role in this short short video as part architect, part process driver and part guide.

In summary, a facilitator is one who remains neutral, enables a process, and helps bring about an outcome. To do this, a facilitator must be open minded, transparent, curious, and draw on the expertise of a group. A facilitator believes the a group is capable and competent and able to participate in its own solutions. The problem solving insight comes from the group, not the facilitator. A facilitator also works with a group to jointly design a next step.

While there are many definitions (and this is greatly simplified), leadership is fundamentally about achieving goals and inspiring people along the way by harnessing people power. 

Under these definitions, the overlap between facilitative mindsets and facilitative leadership are more obvious: both are about achieving goals; both are about accessing the knowledge and expertise in the room (organization) and both are about believing in the capacity of the group (team). Many leaders will say they hire good people and get out of their way so that they can do what is needed.

The term ‘facilitative leader’ is used quite frequently by the facilitation community. So what does it mean? A leader with a mindset that says there is wisdom in this room embraces a facilitative style; a leader that ensures everyone has a voice that that every voice is heard demonstrates a facilitative style; a leader that is open and transparent about what they think, why they think it and actively invites alternate viewpoint portrays a facilitative mind set. A leader who listens well, clarifies understandings and tests assumptions acts in a facilitative manner.  

Whether 1:1, 1:several or 1:many – facilitation skills say a lot about whether your leadership style is autocratic, participative, inclusive, or hierarchical. How you handle a group discussion is very illuminating.  

After 25 years in the workforce and many years facilitating, both formally and informally, I’ve come to the conclusion that facilitation skills should be taught in virtually every educational program out there: engineering, science, business, arts, education, etc. How much better would the workplace be if more leaders embraced a facilitative style?