Why are we still arguing over pennies about what facilitation is worth or not? Here’s the *real* value we bring!!

[the gist: At the NDB Testivál I attended a session looking at how facilitated assignments are charged, and it’s largely undervalued when you think about the importance, complexity, craft, transaction costs, societal benefits and other factors that go into this… It dawned on us that we had to collectively articulate all the benefits of facilitated conversations to avoid negotiating every penny, to understand what is real value and to all value this work. Here is my stab at it].

How much is it worth to facilitate your collaborations and meetings? (photo credit: AJ&Smart)

And so the Never Done Before Testivál is over.

It went in a finger snap. And there is a lot to report about it, and much will be done and said I’m sure on the NDB community and on the web.

One of the most fascinating sessions I attended was named ‘what if you doubled your rates?’ It talked about how much we – people who are hired to facilitate engagements and collaborations – financially charge for our work, and how we justify our fees.

The session was really fascinating to me because:

  • Charging for our gigs and work is not spoken among us. So having a community of practice on this helps us rationalise our approach and make a case for our profession as a whole;
  • There are so many variables that help set up a budget: daily fee rate, time required, complexity of the assignment, urgency, familiarity with the client, familiarity with the topic, long term hopes / outcomes and benefits etc. and it was good to double-check that list with the group;
  • The general cost of things is often more complex than meets the eye. I am still under the deep impression of the WASHCost project which helped to explain the many cost components of water and sanitation services (beyond the obvious ‘construction costs’ of a water point or toilet. Similarly here, there are many cost components going into the service we provide, that should realistically be reflected in the prices we quote, and most often are not;
  • Most importantly, it is a reflection of how the ‘facilitation domain’ itself is perceived and valued by both its lead actors (us), but also the clients buying/renting these services, and the people and groups at large. This session helped us all understand better what value we really bring, and how we can advocate for that value because it’s meaningful and everyone should realise that…

So there are at least two important sides to this conversation:

a) the pragmatic side of it: what elements to bear in mind in costing and charging, what pricing models etc. and…

b) how professionally facilitated inputs are perceived, valued and what are opportunities there. The latter point is what I want to focus on here.

The conversation was attended by a Testivál record 30 or so people (out of 100 participants in total), showing that this mattered to many of us. It also became clear that we will be a lot more effective if we collectively advocate for the basic value we are bringing to the table. As I realised this, I sort of volunteered to start articulating our value towards our clients. So here is a starting point, a meagre individual point of view that hopefully will stir some ideas and get us to really get our act together and make sense in explaining what value we bring to the table.

So what is it that a facilitator really brings as value, and why, as the session description gave it away, we (facilitators) tend to “under charge and almost systematically over-deliver”?

We bring impact at optimal costs (the return on investment / opportunity cost argument)

And that’s the main reason people bring in a facilitator: facilitated conversations and collaborations are effective and impactful, they help get the job done (whether ‘the job’ is what was scheduled for conversation or something else that proved more important along the way).

Indeed, when we step in, we help clarify objectives and outcomes. This happens both when designing a gathering upstream, and downstream, when we’re facilitating in the room and find out that some topics have more ‘energy’ than others.

In the realm of complex issues, we thrive -and help you thrive- by approaching wicked problems with methods and approaches that are significantly more effective than the ‘business as usual’ approaches.

And all that at a very low cost indeed. Think about the opportunity cost of 15 executives at a 2-hour meeting: for an average person’s hourly fee of € 100, that meeting would cost € 3000. If nothing has been achieved, it means a lot of wasted money. Usually we manage to use that money to be effective now (and a whole lot more), so is there a point in arguing on pennies?

We bring light – with lightness

Facilitated conversations and collaborations are clear, and enjoyable!

First off, at the very least what we bring about is an absence of complete chaos. That is already a major achievement. And if we hit a zone of conflict, or frustration, or confusion – which in our lingo is often referred to as the ‘groan zone’, it’s for good reasons: we are your guides in those turbulent times to see a promising destination, rather than go back to the safe but same harbour as everyday.

And in most cases, we bring a whole lot more than that: fun, energy, joy, creativity, beautiful charts, music, laughter, informality. It feels good to take that formality mask down and have fun with us, while getting stuff done. Focus with fun!

Photo credit: MyTasker

We bring skills, methods and ideas

Facilitated conversations and collaborations are eye-openers and build the collaborative muscles of the group.

I have met a number of technical specialists who, transformed by their exposition to facilitation, wanted to get into this facilitative work. That’s not surprising: we bring a very compelling ‘capacity development’ arsenal of skills, knowledge and tools to the table:

  • By demonstrating them, we share skills – that are actually super handy life, and leadership skills – for everyone to be more productive;
  • We stimulate everyone’s thinking, help connect everyone’s ideas and offer creative ways of looking at issues which make new options possible;
  • We have lenses and use frameworks that reveal a whole new world about issues and about how people go about them and go along with each other;
  • We help develop stronger management – by teasing out our sponsors’ understanding of group dynamics, group decision-making, communication etc. – and at the same time…
  • We help cultivate leadership in everyone: because it is our starting premise to help everyone do their best thinking, so they can mobilise their ideas, capacities and gifts, energies, and in so doing inspire others to do the same.

Through all these things, and getting groups safe through the groan zones of their agendas, we help our groups – your groups! – to develop their collaborative muscles to ‘do it themselves’. I don’t often point this out but this is actually rather generous and selfless: we want you to get rid of us and do this by yourselves!

We bring relationships to new levels

Facilitated conversations and collaborations bring people together, deeply and for long. This is something that matters deeply to many of us playing that facilitative role.

Through icemelters, teambuilding exercises, but even more so through getting people to ‘the real deal’ (see next point) and exploring all sides of the human experience, through the lows of struggle and the highs of laughter, through the wideness of scopes and the depth of perspectives, we bring people together.

Not just for that one workshop, but for longer term acquaintance, contact, connection, click, resonance… and that is not a bad premise for meaningful collaboration down the line…

Image credit: Daniel Christian Wahl

We get people to meet and chat with each other, to do things together, to question each other and themselves, to agree and disagree with each other, to listen carefully to each other, to expose themselves to each other, to advance together.

This is not only useful for the ‘here and now’ but also for the future, for future collaborations, and for future relations. Relationships are nearly everything in the complex realm of human interactions… So how priceless is that support we bring?

We bring authenticity and trust

Facilitated conversations and collaborations are vulnerable, critical, meaningful. They are full of humanity. We call for that humanity to come in the room. We want everyone to reveal as much as they can -and feel uncomfortably comfortable- about their private conversation, the one going on in their head. We see through the boasting and the self-deprecating, we try and get people to be themselves. The real ‘myself’. Because when we all are ourselves, then and only then we can start talking about genuine inclusive solutions. And because we don’t take ourselves seriously or central stage, and because we avoid an atmosphere of exclusion, of mockery, of jadedness, we invoke trust and stimulate it.

In the process, we help reveal elephants in the room, because only when we’re really honest with ourselves do we accept to really see these elephants.

And so, by the same token, as the people in the time-spaces we create and entertain are finding their trust, renewed comfort and authenticity, we ensure their engagement, their attention, their commitment…

That is the holy grail of many an internal marketing team… And they charge a lot of money for what they do!!! We do it, and for little…

We (sometimes, sort of) liberate you – and all of us!

Facilitated conversations and collaborations are a ticket for your full engagement, dedication, openness, without having to play another specific role. We help you and your team thrive. And in the process this helps all of us because it means everyone is really playing from their most logical standpoint.

So what ? Now what?

In conclusion… We prevent massive waste of money, time, talent (helping everyone do their best thinking), energy (giving people different ways of dealing with it), ideas (getting away with ‘duh’ and boring business as before), relationship-building, authentic humanity… We bring impact, in a conducive atmosphere and with many invisible added benefits…

If you ask me about the above as a client, I would say it is pretty awesome, so why is there sometimes some quibbling over pennies for what we charge?

Is it not a moment to a) see things for what they really are and to agree to pay for the value that we bring and b) understand why it seriously matters that everyone gets their facilitation skills under their skin and that you invest in making this happen, so you don’t just depend on us?

Process literacy, here we come!

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