The Art of Facilitation

9781935504894A couple of months ago I read the book ‘Facilitator’s and Trainer’s Toolkit‘ by Artie Mahal. This book proved to be a gold mine for people interested in the craft of facilitation. I’ve always had the feeling that facilitation can be a powerful instrument that exceeds merely ‘hosting meetings’. Facilitations skills are essential in everything we do, they are truly people- and leadership skills. Artie Mahal put my thoughts into words. In this blog post I’ll define facilitation, describe the facilitation framework that shows the scale of organizational facilitation, and share my experiences as a facilitator.

Facilitation Defined

  • Facilitators create an environment where learning can take place.
  • Facilitation is the art and craft of enabling individuals and groups to discuss issues and opportunities around a shared objective and develop agreed strategies for a common direction.
  • Facilitation is the activity performed by a neutral individual who acts a catalyst for groups to solve problems and develop solutions.
  • In addition to meetings, sessions and workshops, facilitation also includes enabling people to learn through transfer of knowledge and training in specific skills by a subject matter expert. The person skilled in facilitation are called facilitators.
  • The method of creating agendas, conducting research, and facilitating sessions to deliver planned outputs and outcomes is referred to as the facilitation process.
  • Facilitators possess a set of specific training tools for their subject matter to ensure the knowledge transfer is effective.
  • In the art of facilitation, 50% of success is preparation, preparation, preparation and the other 50% is “theatrics”. With theatrics is meant keeping work groups engaged, energized and focused on the topic at hand while “entertaining” them with relevant stories, metaphors, exercises, and good humor.
  • To facilitate is to make easier. So facilitation is the process of making something easier.
  • When used effectively, facilitation is a critical activity and competency that enables the success of an organization.

The Scope of Organizational Facilitation

As mentioned earlier facilitation is far more than merely hosting meetings. Facilitation includes developing strategies and solutions, executing programs and processes, providing learning and development, and promoting cooperation and collaboration to deliver enhanced value proposition. Thus, facilitation is a catalyst for advancement along organizational career steps. Artie Mahal created a framework that offers a view of the scope of facilitation opportunities. He divided it into four groups:

  1. Strategies and Solutions with the objective to improve performance
  2. Programs and Processes with the objective to optimize execution
  3. Learning and Development with the objective to stimulate individual growth
  4. Cooperation and Collaboration with the objective to enhance effectiveness

While individually they contribute to the organization in their unique way, collectively they enhance organizational performance. In his book, Artie offers a comprehensive description of every group including practices and tools that can help you as a facilitator.

The Scrum Master as a Facilitator

For years I’ve fulfilled the role of Scrum Master within a web agency. Within this role, facilitation was the part that gave me the most energy. At that time, I wasn’t consciously taking the role of facilitator, it was only afterwards I noticed the resemblance of the tasks that energized my.

As a Scrum Master I facilitated:

  • Creating a “container” for the team to fill up with their ideas and innovations.  The coach creates the container; the team creates the content. (Lyssa Adkins – Coaching Agile Teams)
  • Relationships and collaboration both within the team and the teams environment;
  • The Scrum process and continuous improvement of the process;
  • The integration of the Scrum team into the entire organisation;
  • The Scrum events to be purposeful and effective;
  • The team in achieving their (personal) objectives.

In this blog post I’ve described a more comprehensive description of the Scrum Master as a facilitator.

The Agile Coach as a Facilitator

As a Scrum Master the Development Teams had my main focus, as an Agile Coach my focus is increased to larger parts of the organization. I try to create an environment that fosters learning and nudges employees to start their own exploration. Hereby I facilitate the team’s and individual journey of continuous improvement and learning. Examples of practices that can be facilitated are clients visits, round table discussions, hackathons and guilds. Everything with the goal of helping people understand and achieve their objectives by promoting collaboration, optimising the process and creating synergy.

Wrap-up

My intention with this blog post was to provide a brief description of the craft of facilitation. The book ‘Facilitator’s and Trainer’s Toolkit‘ by Artie Mahal acted hereby as an important source of inspiration. It definitely worth reading when you’re interested in this topic. For me it confirmed my view that professional facilitation is an art that desires craftsmanship.