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The Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0091 | March 11, 2003
6,700 Subscribers

picture of Steve Davis, editor of the Master Facilitator Journal.

From the Publisher: 

Hello MFJ Readers. This week we explore the dilemma of facilitator involvement in groups in an article by Terry and Christine Finlow-Bates entitled, "The Facilitator's Dilemma: Should I get Involved in the Content?"

Please note that I've scheduled the next "Random Acts of Facilitation" Teleclass with a discount to MFJ readers. See details and schedule at the bottom of this issue.

In addition, my close friend and associate, Lisa Micklin and I are conducting a free one-hour telediscussion on the development of ezines on the 12th and 17th of March. Click here for details.

If you or your colleagues are interested in submitting an article for consideration, please email your ideas. I'd love to hear from you.

Steve Davis

Intervention Skill

The Facilitator's Dilemma: Should I get Involved in the Content?

The Point

The received wisdom for facilitators is that they should never get involved in, or pass judgment on, the content during a session. They are there exclusively to control the process and group dynamics. But is this really true?

For some types of facilitators this is probably so. One sort, let's call them type 1, tends to take a coaching role in the team. Team leadership rests with someone else such as the project leader or chairperson. During meetings, the team leader chooses and leads the process to be followed. The leader might do this in consultation with the facilitator but when the session begins there is no doubt that it is the leader who is in control. As the session progresses, the facilitator may make suggestions and even 'take over' for a short training cameo. But as soon as their contribution is complete, they hand back control to the leader.

The type 2 facilitator, on the other hand, is often hired as a session leader. They are usually there because the project has stalled and desperation has set in. The Vandals are at the gate; someone is required who knows how to help defeat the enemy, and quickly. They are there because they command the detailed thought processes and tools required to achieve results. They also know exactly where and when such tools are required.

What does this difference mean to practicing facilitators?

The type 1 facilitator is often attached to a project team for a substantial period of time. In theory, they should assist the team leader and then gradually phase themselves out of the process. But in practice, one of two things tends to happen:

a) They become part of the furniture. The problem here is that they often lack the deeper skills for the task and sometimes are no more skilled than the team leader. The result is a facilitator who has a wealth of content knowledge, a somewhat limited knowledge of the process tools, and who is required to take a 'hands off' stance. They can easily feel very uncomfortable and irrelevant. Before they realize it, they are using their content knowledge to justify their presence and they become just another team member.

b) They take over the show. They get so enthused by the tools, they study them hard and apply them whenever they can. They also give in to the temptation to build credibility and justify their presence by using their content knowledge. The team leader is happy to fade into the background and hand all the responsibility over to the facilitator. They become the leader.

The position of type 2 facilitators is quite different. One of the main skills of this sort of facilitator is to ask the right questions that lead to answers that 'fit the tools'. They are often external consultants hired in for their skill in using the tools. Such a facilitator has probably seen other comparable situations and has valuable content knowledge which may be a source of new insights. It would be a shame not to use them. However, once again there are two main risks.

a) They create dependence. After one or two sessions with this sort of facilitator who is constantly drawing on their content knowledge, the team becomes very dependent on or him/her. The risk is that they become one of those notorious consultants that you can't ever get rid of.

b) They become a solution seeking a problem. We all know the saying 'to man with a hammer every problem looks like a nail'. Many professional facilitators have too narrow a range of thinking tools at their disposal. At best, they try to force every situation through the same set of tools (brainstorm, affinity diagram, Nominal Group Technique etc.); at worst, they become the technical expert with a standard technical solution.


An answer to the dilemma.

Firstly, be aware which of these two facilitator roles/styles suits you personally and try to stick to that style.

As a type 1 facilitator, you should try to stay out of the content at all costs. If you do take the pen, leave as much to the team as possible. If the process is running smoothly, go and do something else for a while. If it is still running well when you come back, think of doing something else - permanently.

As a type 2 facilitator, you should use every ounce of your experience and knowledge to drive the process forward and to reach a result within a few hours - and then depart. If you have content knowledge, do not reveal it immediately. If, by judicious questioning, you can get the answer from the group do so and move on. If you discover you have knowledge and/or insights not present in the group, flag your intention to temporarily step out of the facilitator role with phrases or rhetorical questions such as:

·'In a previous life, when I was a (chemistry teacher, electrical engineer, glass blower etc.), I saw an approach that could perhaps help here us here.'

'If I take my facilitator's hat off for a moment, I think we are dealing with the second sort of cavitation here where the fluid doesn't actually go onto the vapor phase.' You can even physically mime the process of removing and replacing your facilitator's hat.

But you need to be cautious. If you are out of your facilitator role for more than a few minutes, you have probably become too involved in the content and will soon become the project leader!

About the authors. Terry and Christine formed their own company, Endeavour Management Services, in 1993. They now specialize in facilitating the solving of business and technical problems using their own methodology Root Cause Investigator that they have developed based on their vast experience with hundreds of real problems in the work place.

Copyright: The copyright of this article remains with T. Finlow-Bates and C. Finlow-Bates. However, please feel free to use this article in whole or part providing the source and authorship is acknowledged.


Decide which type of facilitator you tend to be, Type 1 or Type 2? What can you do to minimize the pitfalls of this particular type in your given situation? Please email us your comments.

The Skilled Facilitator: Practical Wisdom for Developing Effective Groups, by Rodger M. Schwarz

Roger Schwarz draws on his own extensive facilitation experience and insight to bring together theory and practice, creating a comprehensive reference for consultants, peer facilitators, mangers, leaders -- anyone whose role is to guide groups toward realization their creative and problem-solving potential. The Skilled Facilitator provides essential materials including simple but effective ground rules for governing group interaction; what to say to a group (and when to say it) to keep it on track and moving toward its goal, proven techniques for starting meetings on the right (and ending them positively and decisively) practical methods for handling emotions (particularly negative emotions) when they arise in a group context, and a diagnostic approach for helping both facilitators and group members identify and solve problems that can undermine the group process.

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We're seeking conventions or best practices around how people design workshops, seminars, and groups processes for training, problems solving, planning, and other facilitated activities. Please email your ideas and approaches to ../contact.html and I'll share with you all the inputs received. 

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About the Author
Steve Davis is a Facilitator's Coach helping leaders enhance their effectiveness through the application and perspective of facilitation. Please email or call me at 805-489-4130 to schedule a Free exploratory session, or to share your suggestions and ideas for the journal. I'd love to hear from you. If you find this newsletter helpful, please forward it to your friends. Thanks for reading!

In the Spotlight

New 5-day Teleclass
for new facilitators and change agents.

Skills and attitudes for the new facilitator or group member who wants to get their group into serious motion.

Random Acts of Facilitation, 5-Day Teleclass
This class will meet for five consecutive weekdays April 21-25, 2003 to cover 25+ facilitative actions you can take to empower and move groups forward. This course is for beginning facilitators or group members that simply want to know more about facilitation so that they can make the groups they are a part of more effective.

How the 5-Day Format/Training works...
1. You dial into your class every day for 5 days (Mon-Fri) for a 30-minute focused training segment using a conferencing bridge.
2. You work a 25-point checklist during the 5 days (about an hour a day of study and field work) which you complete by Friday afternoon, or sooner if you wish.
3. During the week, you may access the instructor via email for help or situational questions.

5-Day Random Acts of Facilitation Training Agenda...
Here's what you'll be learning and doing during the 5-Day course...

Introduction to the Facilitation and Self Facilitation Skills.

1. Create the Ambience.
2. Share the Dream.
3. Get Facilitation
4. Juggling.
5. Me First.

Relating with compassion and understanding.

6. Be Ignorant.
7. Make Smiles Happen.
8. Hold 'em High.
9. Acknowledge the Elephant.
10. Turn on Your Crap-Detector.

Group Dynamics and Facilitation

11. Build the Container.
12. Build trust.
13. Mine the Unexpected.
14. Evolve Your Team.
15. Honor the Process.
16. Facilitate Full Participation

Organizing and Presenting yourself confidently, professionally, and authentically. 

17. Prepare for Success.
18. Get Real.
19. Make Experiences, Not Speeches
20. Watch the Body Talk.
21. Be your message

Intervening to shift group energy

22. Tame the Tormentors.
23. CareFront.
24. Use the Struggle.
25. Break through barriers.
26. Facilitate from Within.
27. Embrace Facilitation as a Master's Path

Benefits to you of participating from the 5-Day Random Acts of Facilitation Training...
1. Get a great introduction to the concept and practice of facilitation skills if you are contemplating becoming a facilitator, team leader, board member, manager, mediator, etc.
2. Never waste another minute in an ineffective meeting again.
3. Learn how to challenge and empower every group you come in contact with.
4. Learn skills to help groups make quantum leaps in their effectiveness.
5. Be a catalyst for positive change in your community.

Also included with your training...
In addition to the 5-Day training described above, you also receive:
1. Free access to the participant-only website (lots of resources, forms, etc.).
2. Free access to the RealAudio version of the 5-Day training.
3. Free copy of the Portable Article Bank ($29 value).

Pricing and Dates...
The full cost of training/access is only $79 for MFJ readers ($89 for the general public) including a free copy of the Portable Article Bank ($29 value). Everything you read about above is included. And, we offer a 100%-satisfaction-guaranteed guarantee.

Please click here and you'll be taken to the teleclass registration page. Register there and you'll see your discount computed and applied as you check out. Immediately upon completion of your registration, you will receive an email with instructions to access the course and free article bank. This course is limited to 20 individuals, first come, first served.

About the satisfaction guarantee
If, for any reason, you are not satisfied with this package, simply email us with a request to refund/credit your credit card in the full amount and we will do so immediately. It's our policy to do this and we honor this in every single case. (Why? Because we are sensitive to the fact that you are buying an e-course/product from us and we feel that if this package isn't EXACTLY what you expected or wanted, that you should be able to get 100% of your money back. This policy completely removes the buying risk for you and keeps our customer-satisfaction rates extremely high.)

Thank you for reading this issue of the Master Facilitator Journal.  Look for your next issue on March 18, 2003. 

Copyright 2003. All Rights Reserved.