Facilitator Journal | Issue #0266, August 16, 2006 ....
I recently discovered a condition that many facilitators may be
suffering from, or more accurately, causing others to suffer from.
This condition has to do with rigid adherence to the facilitative
skill set in all group situations. I call this condition "Facilitation
Fundamentalism." Those afflicted mean no harm and actually
believe in their righteous cause. In fact, the onset of this condition,
particularly in the case of new facilitators and other helping professionals
is completely understandable in light of their increased focus while
building their expertise in a new field.
Some, however, go so far as to view their offerings as the answer
to everything--they become fundamentalists. Read this week's article,
"Are you a Facilitation Fundamentalist?" to learn
about the pitfalls of this condition and how to recover from it.
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you a Facilitation Fundamentalist?
hold of your profession in service to your profession.
Once we "become" something, like a facilitator, coach, teacher,
consultant, trainer, counselor, therapist, minister, or a member of any
number of the "helping" professions, I believe that something
very good and something not so good begins to happen. As we delve into
our new field, our understanding and expertise deepen, but at the same
time, our view tends to narrow. This narrowing is simply a byproduct of
our focus on our new field and is quite natural.
Hopefully, in time, we integrate our new skills and once again open our
focus to take in new and sometimes contradictory perspectives, and our
new skill set falls into its proper place in our tool kit. But sometimes
this doesn't happen. Sometimes we join and attend only those institutes
and associations that support and nurture our chosen field. We begin to
hang out with people doing what we're doing and agreeing with our points
of view and assessment of the problems "out there." Something
begins to happen that borders on the evangelical. We start to view the
offerings of our field as the answer to everything--we become fundamentalists.
I've seen hints of this among facilitators as well. I call this "facilitation
fundamentalism." They believe that facilitation is the answer to
everyone's problems and that it should be employed at every opportunity.
The more one thinks this way, the less open they become to new information
that contradicts this view. And the newer a profession or body of beliefs,
the more evangelical its proponents often become in "spreading the
Who knows? I've
probably had my moments where I've even been a bit guilty of this myself.
However, I've come to believe that as great and under used as facilitation
may be, employing it anywhere and everywhere is not the answer. Though
there are circumstances where it is very appropriate and helpful to employ,
there are times when other approaches are far more effective. Knowing
the strengths and limitations of facilitation is therefore very important.
There is a secondary form of facilitation fundamentalism that comes into
play in arenas where facilitation is determined to be the most appropriate
approach. This more subtle form of fundamentalism occurs during a facilitated
session where the facilitator believes that any deviation from "pure"
facilitation is taboo. On this occasion, during times of participant unrest,
the facilitator may rigidly grasp the flag of facilitation while making
such proclamations as, "I must remain 'neutral' and therefore cannot
comment on the content of your struggle." Or during a session where
people are stuck trying to solve an intractable problem, the facilitator
spends 30 minutes helping them "tap into their own inner wisdom"
to "facilitate" their way into a solution. Or during a meeting,
where the same attendees show up having not completed the work they committed
to, the facilitator spends 15 minutes "processing" this with
them to help them remove their obstacles. I'm sure you can think of many
Now I'm not saying that a facilitator shouldn't be "neutral"
with regard to content, or shouldn't help people "tap into their
inner wisdom," or shouldn't help people process obstacles. I'm just
saying that this approach isn't always best given the circumstances.
So what do we do with Facilitation Fundamentalism? Just as all true change
"starts with me," we must first check to see to what degree that
we are "true believers" ourselves! Make an honest assessment of
your own behavior as a facilitator and ask yourself the following questions:
Facilitation Fundamentalism Questionnaire.
1. Do you talk about facilitation at every opportunity, even in social circles
2. Do you often think that if only facilitation were practiced by more groups,
in higher levels of government, etc. that the world's problems would finally
3. Do you rigidly adhere to the role of "Facilitator" when working
4. Do you
believe that facilitation is always the best way to get things done in
5. Do you grip tightly to your facilitation plan or agenda, complete with
the questions that you're going to ask the group?
6. Do you believe that democratic consensus-driven methods of decision-making
are always the best approaches to use with groups?
If you answered "yes" to two or more of the questions above,
you may be a facilitation fundamentalist. Knowing this truth, whether
you like it or not, is the first step to your recovery. For as all good
facilitators know, we must be clear about the nature and location of where
we are now, point "A," before we can get to point "B."
Here are some insights that will help loosen the grip on Facilitation
are complex entities that are best served by a spectrum of approaches,
which may include facilitation and at times, other approaches such as
coaching, teaching, training, directing, and advising. For example,
a group with archaic communication skills may need to be taught some
basic skills before they're candidates for facilitation.
respond to different styles of leadership based on their needs. As an
extreme example, consider a group of individuals rendered homeless just
days before by Hurricane Katrina. For a time, they'll need strong direction
and the satisfaction of their biological and safety needs before they'll
require any inter or intra-personal facilitation.
- The degree
of content neutrality in your facilitation may vary depending on the
stage of your group's development or the level of their personal development.
If asked to facilitate the creation of an event plan for a group of
students who can't for the life of them dream up an event, you may have
to suggest some options to get them rolling.
needs and interests change like the weather. You need to prepare as
best you can before facilitating a group, but once the group is underway,
it's sure to hand you surprises. Some of these surprises will entail
previously unknown (at least to you) core issues, that if resolved,
will yield results often far more valuable than those realized by your
consenus decision-making requires a certain level of personal development
in the inter-personal and values competencies to embrace as a participant.
For example, there are many people who simply want to be "told
what to do" and are frustrated by inquiries into their desires
and opinions on a subject.
Can you add
to this list in support fundamentalist freedom? If so, please respond
to this email and with your thoughts and I'll add them to this list.
you a "Facilitation Fundamentalist? If so, what are you willing to
do, if anything, to free yourself from its grip? In what situation would
you'd like to flex out of the facilitator role while facilitating? Click
reply and email your comments to me. I'd love to hear from you.
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