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....and many other thoughts about facilitation, coaching ( teams & individuals) and learning


  • David

IAF Conference 2008

Updated: Mar 12, 2022

I finished the International Association of Facilitator (“IAF”) conference in Kuching and am now on the way to KL whilst I am writing this post.

Key Take-Away

One of my key take-away is rather conceptual i.e. ‘What is facilitation?’ The conference clarified for me what this term means, or at least what some people refer to by the word ‘facilitation’. In fact, the word ‘facilitation’ is so widely used that different people mean different things in using it. In the IAF word, ‘facilitation’ means very much pure facilitation i.e. facilitator being content neutral. If lecturing is one extreme type of group processes, pure facilitation is its exact opposite. The one who conducts the (pure) facilitation i.e. facilitator can know nothing about the content of discussion.

A (pure) facilitator should lay out a clear and efficient process for the participants to work on. He / she should put in place effective means of communication among the participants. He / she should challenge the participants to think and interact. He / she should refrain himself from giving his own view. More about the desired competencies for a facilitator from IAF.

By the way, here is the definition on facilitator from Wikipedia:

"A facilitator is someone who helps a group of people understand their common objectives and assists them to plan to achieve them without taking a particular position in the discussion."

“Training is not facilitation”

In the conference, I heard repeatedly the statement – “Training is not facilitation”. This confused me. I always believe that a good trainer is supposed to adopt facilitation skills. For example, he / she should ask questions and make the learners think. Why “Training is not facilitation”? In chatting with one of the Assessor for the Certified Professional Facilitator ("CPF"), I realize that the statement should be:

”Traditional training i.e. lecturing is not facilitation” or

“Training is not pure facilitation”

Coming to this point, my thought became clear.

“Always (Pure) Facilitation?”

The conference was so much about ‘facilitation’. There seemed to be a claim that that we should always use (pure) facilitation. I cannot help ask the others a question – ‘In what occasion will facilitation become inappropriate / not applicable?’ A few gave me a similar answer – it is not applicable when there is already the ‘answer’ to the topic. It makes sense. If the boss has already determined what to do re the revenue decline, there is no point facilitating the sales to come up with the solution.

However, facilitation skill (not pure facilitation) is still applicable in some occasions when there is already an ‘answer’ i.e. training. In most of the training settings, the trainers are supposed to bring some messages / knowledge to the learners. In order to be effective, most trainers will facilitate the learners to reach the knowledge themselves. It could be experiential learning. It could be a discussion on a HBR article.

Challenges in Asia for (pure) facilitation

Understanding more about (pure) facilitation, I come to realize more the challenges in making it popular in Asia. Here, most people come to an event e.g. conference, meeting, workshop expecting to receive something e.g. tips, practices. At the same time, most sponsors organize an event because they want to tell something e.g. business direction, annual strategy. But (pure) facilitation is supposed to be content-neutral. The facilitator is supposed to only put in place a process so that the ‘answer’ comes from the participants. As such, people in Asia could more likely be disappointed in a pure facilitation session.

My view on (pure) facilitation

Finally, my view. I strongly believe that it is important. It injects efficiency into organization by making events (e.g. conference, meeting, workshop) work. Efficiency is important nowadays for survival. We got to squeeze more juice from the same fruit. But it is tougher to push pure facilitation in Asia because of the established ‘content-rich’ expectation on events. It would be another interesting in thinking how to push pure facilitation in Asia.

For myself, I would love to be a pure facilitator. I love to bring clarity in a group environment. It is fun.

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