What is Facilitation?

People often ask me: what is facilitation, exactly? 

So, I thought it would be great to write the answer down.

Facilitation is helping people to collaborate.

I've had the privilege of doing this for 15 years now, with media professionals, researchers, students and of course a wide range of clients from a fascinating mix of expert fields. It happens in all kinds of ways, but usually it means being a neutral person helping a group to work together to build ideas.

This is often called ideation.

The facilitator may be an expert in the subject at hand, but they are always expert at helping the individuals become a team. This means translating what people know and can do into forms of creativity shared by the group.

They plan and structure meetings, write notes, direct conversations, formalise proceedings and then report on the shared experience of the group. This means using a range of techniques to stimulate energetic exchange while keeping discussions on track, explaining complicated ideas in simple terms, anticipating and preventing any potential conflict and stopping inappropriate language use.

Thought leader on the topic Fran Rees wrote this list (facilitators love a good list) of things facilitation helps to do:

  • Group members are often more motivated to support the decisions made because of their investment in the process.
  • The best efforts of groups usually produce better results than individual efforts.
  • Increased participation within the group increases productivity.
  • It is possible for managers and leaders to draw more on their staffs as resources, which contributes to overall organisational success.
  • Everyone involved has a chance to contribute and feels they are an integral part of the team.
  • People realize and respect that responsibility for implementing decisions lies with everyone.
  • Innovation and problem-solving skills are built.
  • People are encouraged to think and act for the overall benefit of the group.
  • Higher-quality decisions normally result.
  • A forum for constructively resolving conflicts and clarifying misunderstandings is created.
  • Negative attitudes, low morale, low involvement, and withholding of information are less likely because everyone is involved in a joint process.

So, hope this helps, and if anyone asks you what facilitation is, send them my way!

Rees, Fran. The Facilitator Excellence Handbook: Helping People Work Creatively and Productively Together, 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005)

Image Credit: "Training meeting in a ecodesign stainless steel company in brazil" by Alex Rio Brazil - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0