Developmental Facilitation

January 9, 2013 4 Comments

Another year, more time to hone our practice as facilitators.  As has been previously mentioned in the pages of this blog, the meaning of the term “facilitation” derives from its root “facile,” or easy, so facilitation is intended to make something easy or easier.  This is not to say that the practice of facilitation is or ever should be easy, and in these times of fracture and fear it can be especially challenging.  And it is not about doing work for others, so that they in some sense get off the hook or put the burden on the formally designated facilitator.

Much of the work of facilitation happens before one sets foot in the room and when it may appear that the facilitator(s) is/are doing little or nothing (holding back; creating “void;” letting the group step up; asking a concise, well-timed, and developmentally-oriented question).  I would say that at its best facilitation makes it easier for others to identify and focus on the work that must be done to significantly move things/themselves forward, which is often the hardest work – identifying core values to guide efforts, having honest conversations/”real talk,” getting beyond destructive patterns, thinking outside of the box (or in some cases, making sure that you are thinking while INSIDE of it).

I like to link the practice of facilitation back to our definition of Facilitative Leadership, IISC’s core approach to leadership for social change.  We define this approach as being about “creating and inspiring the conditions for self-empowerment so that people can work together on a shared goal.”  Facilitation is a practice for creating these conditions for self-organization and emergence.  Implicit to its exercise is building capacity in a group to identify processes that serve it best in its own mission-centric and purposeful pursuits.  At the end of the day, facilitation, like leadership, is a team sport.  It requires the efforts of everyone to see what serves best in guiding collective development, and at times it may require some more heavy lifting on the part of one or more readily identified and named facilitator/s.  But it should not get stuck there.

In the coming year, I am committing to a few practices to further my own development in being of service to building deeper capacity through facilitation:

  1. Inviting not just thoughts, but feelings, sensations, intuitions, and movement (whole people!) into the room.
  2. Asking more strategic questions that inspire movement and new insights/ideas (as Peter Block has said – “Conversations that open the door to transformation must value questions more than answers.”)
  3. Waiting patiently through more awkward silences for groups to respond (research I read about recently suggests that facilitators wait for only about 6 seconds on average before breaking the silence; what if we were to at least double that?)
  4. Practicing more “group jazz” techniques and creating more liberating structures to invite individual and group development (Open Space, appreciative interviews, body storming, etc.)

How about you, what commitments might you make in this new year to bring facilitation to another level of maximizing human potential?


  • Nancy White says:

    Regarding liberating structures, you may enjoy the new site, which is an amazing resource from Keith and Henri!

  • Curtis says:

    Thanks, Nancy. We do know that site and I actually tweeted their library of LS techniques the other day.



  • Gibran says:

    Finding deep resonance Curtis, I have been immersed in some intensive facilitation this week and truly experiencing how blessed we are to get to do this work. I will stand with you on these commitments.

    I am also interested in working with “heat,” even intentionally turning it up, as I am more and more convinced that the hot zones are the spaces that yield adaptive change.

    I am committed to seeking feedback, and I’m ready to understand that when you work with heat, at least some of the feedback has to be negative – I don’t want to be intimidated by that when working with adaptive change.

  • Curtis says:

    Completely feeling you on the heat front, Gibran! I have the words of Carol Sanford running through my head – “Development happens through destabilization.” Part of being destabilized or disrupted is the heat. And I agree that some of that can come back on us. And it’s really not about being liked, but being effective. Sometimes those don’t go together.

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