‘The periodic table of facilitation’: What did I learn about what we can learn about facilitation

This year, one of the main sources of excitement and renewal in my work life is coming from Never Done Before, the community of facilitators created and co-hosted by Myriam Hadnes (from the excellent facilitation geeking podcast ‘Workshops work‘).

One of the great sessions I had the pleasure to attend there was about the ‘periodic table of facilitation‘. We set out to dissect the field of group / process facilitation and distil elements that would feature in a such a table, following some design principles of the actual periodic table.

Without a prescriptive formula, we actually started with a brainstorming session (in breakout groups) where we populated a whole Miro board with all the thoughts that came to us, before we started organising them – in different breakout groups – from the whole set of ideas into categories that made instinctively more sense to our various groups. And then we took one more step back to identify what might be the deeper ‘organising principles’ of this table we landed with.

And the result is this periodic table of facilitation in the making, on Miro: https://miro.com/app/board/uXjVO3Hhsmg=/

We didn’t manage to land with a neat periodic table.

In fact, we kind of agreed that perhaps this was pushing the metaphor too far for a domain (group/process facilitation) that is perhaps more an art than a science, and that may not have such clear properties ascribed to it as the physical table.

The biggest aha moment for me though, was that I (and a few others apparently also) kind of assumed that some bits of facilitation were almost innate/given, and others were acquired, it turned out that pretty much anything can be learned in facilitation.


Not everything comes as easily, quickly and naturally. In our last breakout, we actually even found a sort of gradation from instrumental and fundamental between:

  • What we have (the tools, equipment and props, participation formats / structures / work forms / facilitation exercises) e.g. Lego Bricks (for Lego Serious Play), World Café, Open Space Technology, Miro etc.
  • What we know (our knowledge of the domain, frames of reference, frameworks, repertoires with their own ontology etc.) – and that is also together with what we believe and what we imagine… e.g. Art of Hosting, Liberating Structures, Theory U etc.
  • What we do (our practice, but from an intentional practice point of view, because throughout our development pathway of course we do stuff) e.g. process design, active listening skills, group decision-making rituals and practices…
  • What/who we are (our traits of character, abilities, areas of mindful attention etc.) e.g. curiosity, empathy, acceptance, humour etc.

Some of my own learning from this great session (which hopefully will be followed up by another session to deepen the metaphor or export it to a more fertile ground):

Of course it’s not quite that simplistic. What we have, know, do, are mesh and mingle somehow. But there is definitely a difference in how quickly we can ‘pick up something to learn’ or not. Ie. it’s easier to grab a set of post-it notes compared with running a 1-2-4-all, which in turn is easier compared with understanding Theory U, compared in turn with applying the gospel of Theory U or Liberating Structures, compared to working on our empathy or sense of acceptance…

There is somehow almost a parallel here with the four levels of teaching by Broadwell (from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence): What we have might be our starting point. Usually, what people think of when thinking about facilitation are the tools and exercises. But that’s just a start, when we don’t really know that that is not the name of the game. What we know is when we realise that there is a lot out there that we may need to go through before we start understanding better (what we know). That leads to what we do intentionally, practicing and practicing. And ultimately, we actually have integrated all of the above in the way that we are and by this power we facilitate…

There is perhaps a parallel with the excitement and pacing of excitement that each of these four ‘areas’ provoke in budding facilitators and in people getting interested in facilitation: they are first attracted by the tools, then often by the repertoires, then by the skills (applying the repertoire), then by the philosophy behind it and the deeper traits that help all the above to work better…

These four domains offer ways to reinforce our overall practice, because of course we probably need a bit of everything to make collaboration work. So it’s also a case of picking and choosing our favourite angles to focus on next, and going in spiral to discover it all…

Maybe all the above is utter rubbish, but in any case that session has been engraved in my memory and though we may not have found the right metaphor with the periodic table, there is something about ordering these domains of facilitation that is deeply resonating with me…

By the way don’t miss the opportunity to join the NDB ‘Testivál’ starting tomorrow:

Join the Testivál for over 30 workshops across 24 hours – and be transformed as most of us were in this community

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What it means to be a facilitator – The dawn of ‘Facilitators unplugged’ chats?

Nadia and I recently gave a training course on (online) facilitation to a networked organisation operating in the water sector. The training itself was really interesting as an experience, to the participants, but also definitely to us both. Every group is different and the pacing, content, facilitation, engagement always works slightly differently with any new group or setting.

As we went through four different sessions addressing ‘facilitation basics’, ‘group dynamics 101’, ‘participation formats and structures’ and ‘collective decision-making’, we had fascinating conversations with the contributors (as Nadia rightly insists we should call ‘participants’).

Is this the dawn of ‘facilitators UNPLUGGED’? (photo credit: M Fisher / FlickR)

Many questions that emerged are facilitation evergreens, the same issues that keep reappearing:

  • What is facilitation?
  • What are the trademarks of a good facilitator?
  • Should a facilitator be neutral or not, and knowledgeable with the topic or not?
  • How do you build and cultivate engagement?
  • Why bring in a facilitator?
  • What does it mean, in the room/zoom, to be the facilitator?
  • How to apply your facilitation skills with confidence, in the face of power, cynicism, your own inexperience etc.?
  • etc….

We addressed these questions in the sessions, but usually time was short for a fuller conversation (the training consisted of four sessions of 1.5h so it was a very light training, more like an introduction).

And so the idea came to us to address these questions in our own way. In so doing this ‘Facilitators Unplugged‘ conversation came off the ground… Our own private corner to have an off-the-record, heart-to-heart and reflexive conversation between two friends that happen to love their facilitative practice and experiences with many groups.

Our conversation was fun, easy, relaxing and interesting. And it was also helpful for us (to clarify our thoughts and pick each other’s brain), for the contributors of our recent training, and hopefully for quite a few other people. Including you, reading this blog. Knowledge SHARING is power, as testified by this quote:

“The traditional assumption that ‘knowledge is power’ and is used for personal gain is being subsumed by the notion that knowledge is an expression of the shared responsibilities for the collective well-being of humanity and the planet as a whole.”

Jeremy Rifkin

So here’s this video conversation, with the timeline of our questions to ourselves and each other, in the first comment…

…and this might indeed be just the dawn of more such conversations among us. Because it was too enjoyable to not do it again.

Let us know what you think – whether it’s worth another episode or we should call it a nice experiment 😉

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Enjoy a simpler life with ‘Min Specs’, the “Marie Kondo of Liberating Structures”

Aah… What delight there is in simplicity!

And yet it’s the most difficult thing, isn’t it?

To quote a few very well-known voices from the past:

“The art of publicity is a puzzle of complexity”

(Doug Horton)

“To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose. To throw away what you no longer need is neither wasteful nor shameful.”

(Marie Kondo)

So yes, there’s that: all that clutter that stands in the way. And while Marie Kondo has made it her mission to physically declutter your house, another tiny revolution in the making is there at your doorstep to de-clutter pretty much any area of your work, or life even. And it’s all there, unpretentious, ridiculously easy to understand, and ready for the plucking and enjoying. Its intriguing name is ‘Min Specs’.

What is ‘Min Specs’ and how does it work?

Minimum Specifications is one of the original 33 Liberating Structures and it offers a wonderful way through complexity: keep it simple stupid, declutter away, focus on your non-negotiables!

How does it work?

Whether you work alone or in groups, the idea is the same: with Min Specs, you look at one ‘thing’ (an issue, an object, a service, a concept) and first list the ‘maximum specifications’, ie. all the features – or specifications / specs – that in the ideal world you’d love to see being part of that thing.

Whether it’s technical specifications for a piece of software or manufactured good, conditions for a project (or team, or trip etc.), characteristics you’re looking for in a job, or principles for pretty much anything, Min Specs always starts with that big listing.

And then comes the piece of magic that is actually one of the deep lenses of Liberating Structures: get rid of whatever stands in the way of what you really need.

So the second step of Min Specs, once you’ve worked your way through your big list, is to go through that list again and relentlessly inspect every item you have on your max specs and wonder: “If I violate/don’t keep this particular item (or ‘spec’), will I/we still achieve the overall goal?”. If you answer yes to any of these specs, they should disappear from your list.

Whatever is left is your set of essentials, ie. your list of Min Specs, the few (ideally 3 to 5) non-negotiable specs that really have to be present.

Of course, it may not be perfect and the practice might show some gaps and improvables, but at least you’ve got a nimble plan to get going with, and that makes it easier to review too.

How does Min Specs work deeply on you?

Try using Min Specs a few times, and you’ll notice the DNA of that single structure is slowly seeping into you. Indeed, like its dedicated mushroom illustration, Min Specs grows in the dark and keeps on replicating itself in every department of your work and life, because it’s that essential.

And you may start seeing really endless applications for it.

I’ve used it myself e.g. to:

  • Decide what are ways for me and some colleagues to work together and respect each other in that collaboration;
  • Structure a report with the most essential chapters/sections;
  • Organise the types of notes (content, process, follow up etc.) I want to keep track of during a meeting;
  • Decide what to keep and what to chuck away on my desk to have an inspiring desk and office (so the real Marie Kondo);
  • Filter out the points that should be part of every ongoing check-in meeting within a client organisation;
  • Think about how I want to spend every single day of my life, following a few simple principles;
  • Look at essential aspects that I want to guarantee for the education of my children, together with my ex-wife;
  • Develop my absolute bucket list of countries that one day I would like to visit…

So as you can see the possibilities are rather open, or even endless…

And then Min Specs stops being just a ‘structure’ and it starts being almost a principle of life. Min Specs almost becomes one of your own life’s Min Specs.

And as happens so often, you also start seeing feedback loops and reverberating effects of the LS repertoire. The Min Specs spirit is nested within Ecocycle Planning and within 9 Whys, it’s meshed in with WINFY or 25/10 Crowdsourcing, and it finds natural connections with e.g. Wicked Questions, What So What Now What etc.

So here’s an invitation to explore this little, simple, yet deep and powerful structure to start decluttering your life and work.

And in the process we can give a bow out to Marie Kondo for helping us appreciate what we’ve known all along:

…that Less is More…

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Read other posts about Liberating Structures on this blog, including a set of posts about ‘Structuring our liberation (LS under the lens)

My 10 commandments of group facilitation

Principles, principles, principles…

I’m not fond of rules. I don’t like constraints. I do like ‘strange attractors‘ and boundaries that guide our path, whether secretly or overtly.

Principles do that. So I guess I’m a person of principles.

And as I’m pondering this excellent post by my friend Nadia von Holzen on the 10 principles of Liberating Structures (LS), I want to offer, hereby what have become some of my ‘commandments’ of facilitation over the past few years.

Using again this amazing LS body of work and other instrumental sources of inspiration such as Community At Work‘s incredible living legacy, I’m thinking it’s a good moment to offer my 10 commandments of facilitation, based on my own practice and experience.

It’s likely to become a living list which I may update here and there in the future. Though even now this list comprises some fundamentals that I believe prepare someone doing facilitative work to do and be the change they want to see as part of their work…

So here we go…

1. “Stay out of the content, manage the process”

This one doesn’t come from me but from Community At Work’s seminal ‘Group Facilitation Skills‘ training. And it’s pretty fundamental. Not all facilitators are neutral in the content/process dichotomy. Some allow themselves to mingle in the conversation and share their opinion. Others influence the direction of the conversation (even from a process perspective). And yet I can only honour this commandment and recommend it to others, because the role of a facilitator is, to mirror Sam Kaner’s mantra “to help everyone do their best thinking”. Meddling in that process and taking a stand from content perspective means sending mixed signals: you may value certain points of view that are close to your own. Ultimately, it means there is no integrity to expect from the facilitator.

2. Be the one person that works in ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE’s interest

This is perhaps the second commandment from Kaner, Noakes et al.: not only is a facilitator majorly involved in managing the process, but also in nurturing healthy and productive relationships among the contributors present. By focusing on the process and not adopting any bias in any conversation involved, the facilitator can free themselves to pay attention to how everyone is doing, and to protect the safe space and time of everyone to express themselves. This is fundamental, as it goes to the core of what facilitation is about: the practice of skilfully collaborating.

3. Along the way, develop everyone’s process literacy

This one comes much more from my own practice, directly. Now that I’ve started to write about process literacy more centrally it’s only logical that this becomes one of my 10 commandments: As facilitator you (expectedly or arguably) possess a strong process vision, a lot of process knowledge, and have developed critical process skills. All of this is extremely helpful to have. So how about getting every group you work with to benefit from some of that? Make the process scaffolding visible, explain the principles or reasons why you have managed this particular process bit or not. Share your process language and invite others to see the value of this meta-stance. Every individual, every group, every community becomes all the stronger along the way.

4. Whenever you can, involve and co-facilitate with others

Directly in line with the previous principle, seek to work with other co-facilitators, preferably people that are members of the group you’re working with. This way, not only are you sharing a little bit of process literacy with everyone, but you develop – crucially through joint experience with them – a lot of that process literacy with one or a few people that will directly play a co-facilitative role in the process. A great learning and discovery, not just for them but for you too. Still be mindful of the dark side of co-facilitation, but then actively involve others relentlessly, you’re making everyone smarter this way!

5. Do not fall in love with your own interests, desires, hobby horses – it’s not about you but about THEM

It is very tempting, when designing a process, to get attracted to this new participation format you’ve been bound to try out or adapt, or this new visual tool you want to get your head around. Exploring the edges of your repertoire is great, it relates to another commandment below about self improving, but behold this: Is this approach you’re suggesting something your group really needs, or is it something you have suggested to please your curiosity? Very often, groups don’t need the most sophisticated approaches, tools, bells and whistles. Something simple but solid usually does the trick. Use other safe-fail avenues for pushing your limits. When working seriously with a group – especially a group that pays you to do this, honour your commitment to them and keep thinking about what’s in it for them. Time, and time, and time, and time again.

Group facilitation – It should be more than you, in quality and in quantity (photo credit: Mathias Weitbrecht)

6. Remember your inner yoda – embrace your ethical self

When in the room, facilitating, you have no space to colour your statements politically or ethically. But upstream, when designing the process, it’s your every right – and perhaps duty – to follow your own code of ethics. And I’m thinking particularly about how you look at dynamics of inclusion, diversity, representation, transparent decision-making. Is the plan really paying attention to everyone the way it should? Is it complete? Is it doing due diligence? Is it not reinforcing entrenched power patterns, and perhaps even creating a climate of distrust etc.? Be very mindful of how you contribute to a healthy (or not so healthy) environment and dynamics in the groups you work with by not asking some critical questions upfront.

And this leads me to the next commandment…

7. Be mindful of who you are – the ‘self as instrument’

The ‘self as instrument’ is again a principle from Community At Work. Know yourself and work with yourself in the room. Know what triggers you both positively and negatively. What is likely to make you over enthusiastic and less risk-savvy, and what will rattle you. Understand the “communication styles that bug you” (C@W, still!) and the ones that you display yourself (with a tinge of TRIZ here). Meditate perhaps, so that your inner eye remains open and alerts you to emotional triggers that affect your judgment and your integrity. The more you know yourself, with all your weaknesses and your strengths, the more you are able to serve others fully and unconditionally.

8. Be the facilitation that you want to see in everything you do

Don’t limit your facilitation practice to the events and collaboration initiatives that you end up working on. Apply it to your life, to your working and wherever desirable your personal relationships. Be supportive, be helpful, listen actively, be mindful of outcomes, be collaborative. When you breathe what you preach, people trust you all the more, because they can see that you walk your talk and respect your work and approach. And bonus, doing so you might even cheekily bring people to taking an extra step of slight discomfort that they might not take otherwise, though that’s matter for another blog post…

9. Self-reflect and self-improve

Maybe it’s the heritage of my knowledge management profile, but I firmly believe that much like a lot of facilitation is getting groups to reflect on everything, you should also reflect on how you’ve been doing this or that, what you did well, what you did unexpectedly, what was good, bad, ugly and lovely in all of that, and what you can do to get it even more right next time around. As the LS gospel goes “Learn by failing forward”. Growth thinking drives the best facilitators, and the pie is always getting bigger. So have your portion now, and then some more! Yummy learning! And at that, you might need the feedback of others to help you cover your blind spots and help you grow, which paves the way for the last, but certainly not the least of these commandments…

10. Work with (many) others, and be grateful!

Facilitating is inherently collective. And it takes many people indeed to go through successful collaboration, even during just the space of an event. So go out there and find your partners in crime. Involve the sponsors, the people in the room. Whether they help design, co-facilitate, document, manage time, manage technical platforms, review the works, the more you involve others, the more active the entire crowd becomes and the more likely they are to invest more of themselves in the time together, and in building quality relationships with each other. Besides, it’s sheer pleasure – well, with some spicy moments ha ha ha. Don’t stop there, thank them, and once again show that collaboration scaffolding: it wouldn’t be possible if all of these people, all of you hadn’t been involved.

It’s a beautiful job to facilitate, and I hope you enjoy these commandments, and perhaps apply some of them or share your own here… What are your 10 commandments of facilitation?

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Process literacy perks: The participants, as ‘leaders in the shade’

With this new year’s resolution to blog somewhat more than I’ve done in the past four years, one of the biggest and nicest endeavours ahead of me is to finally write a series of posts about ‘process literacy’ – following this seminal post. I’m getting started with this series today, focusing on the benefits of process literacy in relation to different types of people/functions involved in collaboration. In this post I’m exploring the benefits of developing process literacy of (and for) the participants of a meeting or collaboration.

Who benefits the most from process literacy? Of course you might say facilitators and other people who operate most of the time in the ‘process’ realm.

Well, there’s much to say about this, for sure.

Though how about the majority of people that will not end up organising, chairing, let alone facilitating meetings – indeed let’s even just think about meetings here, not even broad collaborative initiatives.

So let’s look at meetings that involve process literate participants.

Cultivate fruitful interactions, collaborations and meetings through making everyone a key actor (Image credit: Atlassian)

You might still wonder: What is the benefit of having participants that have developed strong process literacy when there’s a facilitator taking care of the process, and better still: it’s their job!! – right?


Of course, you can always work with a group that has no understanding of process literacy whatsoever. You don’t NEED it to get where you want. But let’s just say it will take more time…

Let’s examine some benefits of having process literacy as distributed as possible, borne by as many participants as possible:

What becomes possible when process literacy is distributed among participants?

Here are just some very real possibilities…

A handy flowchart (download link here to the left) (image credit: Atlassian)
  • Everyone attends meetings as they know exactly why they attend that meeting (ever seen this handy flow chart about organising a meeting or not, by the way?).
  • They have also a good understanding of the topics and outcomes that are aimed at for this meeting. And if they don’t, they ask questions about it upfront, preventing ill-conceived meetings and inviting the organising team to do a better job at realising why they are organising the meeting themselves.
  • They have realistic expectations about what can be achieved in a meeting and are thus not going to shoot for the moon in a two-hour online meeting (or even an eight-hour face-to-face meeting for that matter).
  • They also clearly understand what is expected of them in terms of dynamics: whether to understand, share ideas, co-create solutions etc. This greatly enhances expectation management for everyone around.
  • They are aware of their own expectations, objectives, communication style, and are capable of factoring this into the group dynamics somehow, instead of focusing on themselves only and letting their emotions rule the game.
  • They create consistent and warm norms that help everyone find their place in the group and contribute, respectfully though potentially in disagreement, and they set examples of behaviours that others can follow to further contribute to this fertile atmosphere of collaboration.
  • They collectively manage time in relation with the overall objectives to accomplish, not just mechanically. And in breakout groups, they are able to keep their eye on the ball of ‘what is it we are trying to accomplish’ rather than just ‘what are we discussing at the moment’.
  • Although they may have some ideas about how to run this or that process, or come up with an alternative way of achieving the objective at hand, they are respectful enough of who’s ‘running the show’ at a given time to make that happen.
  • They really pay attention to each other and to managing relationships, because they understand it’s key to the present and future of that work.
  • On the other hand, if things are going horribly wrong, they will call it out and ask for a serious facelift of the process at hand – even all the way to cancelling or adjourning the meeting.
  • And a real bonus here: You can turn participants into facilitators – whether for break out groups, or even (segments of) plenary sessions.
So what are we waiting for to get into a more process literate collaboration? (image credit: QualitDesign)

…and I can get to think about other benefits still, but you get the gist…

In essence, with process literate participants, you have a group of ‘shadow’ facilitators that understand what it takes to move forward with a complex agenda. They make you that much more likely to achieve the results you set your eyes on. You can count on these ‘leaders in the shade’ to bear the collective process and its integrity every step of the way.

This is of course an idyllic picture, a unicorn in the realm of meetings (sigh…) but it sets a vision for what we should strive for. A bit like communication, process literacy is really everyone’s business, or it should be.

Obviously, the reverse picture of the above is also true, and that’s why there’s a lot of benefits in getting the entire set of participants to develop their process literacy rather than dealing with the ills of process illiteracy…

How to cultivate that process literacy?

Well, that’s my holy grail, and I’m getting started on my quest after some successful but rather random errands in the past.

What is sure, approaches that aim at involving and unleashing everyone, such as Liberating Structures, are key in this endeavour. But many more avenues are worth exploring.

Do you want to join my round table, noble knight of distributed intelligence?

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Waltzing with the complexity of collaboration in three simple dances – a Liberating Structures festival…

The beauty of complexity is the choices that it gives you. Not like in the simple or complicated domain where there is a best or good practice to follow – or a simple set thereof.

If none of the above paragraph makes sense, I’m referring to the Cynefin Framework – of which I just stumbled upon a fabulous ‘dummy’ version.

Cynefin framework for dummies (image credit: Ron Donaldson)

No, when it comes to complex stuff, it’s actually a good thing to have various entry points. As we do in life.

And that’s what an upcoming Liberating Structures festival is aiming to do:  offer three entry points (or three different types of dancing with our realities) to unlock some simple ways to embrace collaboration between people in all its complexity – especially in all sectors that have a social purpose (ie. health, education, development etc.).

Liberating Structures reveal their layers, and help us unravel our consciousness (Credits: Soren Lauritzen)

Liberating Structures reveal their layers, and help us unravel our consciousness (Credits: Soren Lauritzen)

The simplest entry point is to go through an immersion workshop, along the lines of the ‘social’ immersion workshop that took place in December 2018. This is a great way to get familiar with the deceptive simplicity and subtle power of Liberating Structures (LS). That first part of the festival will essentially cover the ‘what are Liberating Structures?’ Liberating Structures are one of these funny constructs that bring a lot of things together – I’m still wondering what it is and will soon talk more about that in an interview.

A second entry point is to further deepen our understanding of how LS work, and particularly how they can work in our specific contexts, with the idiosyncratic challenges that come with those. This ‘Beyond the familiar’ clinic will really look at the technicalities of LS, the ‘how to get it to work better (for you)’.

A final entry point will be a creative practice jam that will aim at going all the way down to the DNA of Liberating Structures to understand how they work and how they could work differently, better etc. Essentially a LIVE lab of LS that could lead to a load of silly ideas, and some genuine gems for the next generation of collaborators. With a few steps back, it really looks critically at ‘why LS?’

Whatever ticket we follow, whatever pathway we end up with, all have a few things in common: the complexity-driven and -oriented DNA of Liberating Structures, their capacity to examine complex issues with systemic change in mind, the micro-structures that bind them all (see picture below), and their simplicity and elegance in helping everyone, absolutely everyone, question and augment their process and collaboration literacy.

The micro-elements of Liberating Structures (Credits: Full Circle)

The micro-elements of Liberating Structures (Credits: Full Circle)

And to me, this is one of the most precious aspects of Liberating Structures: they are one of the safest, easiest, least threatening and yet potentially most powerful ways of bringing important questions to the fore.

So pick up the train and join us on the Festival 🙂

LS Festival (image credits: Nadia von Holzen)

More information about the LS festival here: https://liberatingstructures.eu/the-hague-ls-festival/

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Taking stock: facilitation videos

So what videos about facilitation are out there?

This was a question one of my ‘group facilitation skills‘ trainees asked me last week. I didn’t know what to say. I learned facilitation all by myself, observing others and reading and observing my own practice, until I got myself trained on group facilitation skills last year.

So I had to dig for those videos…

And I have to say, I’ve been left hungry on this one… Rather unimpressed with the top suggestions by supposedly omniscient Google.

But I have to do due diligence to the people who asked the question to me. So hereby a tour of facilitation videos I personally encountered, with my short commentary on them. There are many more videos I checked but not enough was worthy (in my eyes) of sharing those videos for.

So here you are for my totally subjective take on useful facilitation videos. They are split between videos that a) explain generally what facilitation is and what facilitators do, b) share some tips and tricks for more effective facilitation and c) show in practice what it looks like.

What is facilitation, who are facilitators, generally?

The art of facilitation

This TedX video is by a facilitator (Jay Vogt) introduces what facilitation is for him and highlights his specific experience, whose aim is to “transform the way we meet”… It’s a bit longer than the other videos but really shares some of the ‘what happens when there’s no facilitation’ and Jay Vogt gives me the idea he’s got a practice that I would really value. Selfless, supportive, engaging. A good introduction!

Facilitation best & worst practices

Already introduced in my last post, this video features – in an animated whiteboard kind of format – some of the fundamentally good and fundamentally wrong practices that facilitators (might end up) do(ing). I don’t agree with everything (e.g. documentation is not necessary a requirement for facilitators) here but roughly this video is getting it ‘right’ (in my totally objective opinion ahem).

What do facilitators do

This video is probably the closest to explaining what a facilitator is. You can also read my recent post clarifying what a facilitator does, as opposed to a moderator, chair, MC etc.  In that same post I covered this video in more details. Even though I’m not raving about the video itself it’s probably the most sincere attempt at explaining what facilitation really is.

Four essential functions to facilitating meetings

The set up of this video is a bit strange but the tips given are also on the ball – with my reserves on the drawing/documenting at the same time as facilitating, and on the fourth part where this type of facilitation seems to also push to consensus.

Some tips…

Facilitation tips and tricks for newbies

Viv McWaters is one of the facilitators that is listed on the list of background resources on this blog and for good reason. In this long recorded webinar (47’06”) that unfortunately has a not-all-too-great sound, McWaters explains very articulately the moments when you need a facilitator (e.g. when you’re stuck / when you need to frame / when you need to disrupt) and gives five tips and tricks for facilitation groups. This is possibly the best video of all the ones here in terms of its content. And an extra emphasis on this tip: remove the tables, as they get in the way!

Six quick facilitation tips

This video is much closer to my own practice than most of the other videos (McWaters’s aside). And though the 6 tips are quickly served, they are good! Have a check 🙂

Seven key skills of workshop facilitation

This presentation is a quick glimpse onto some of the basics of facilitation, particularly in terms of the attitude the facilitator should adopt. Nothing ground-breaking here but some good tips – with the caveat that ‘challenging’ is ok at design stage, not in the conversation itself (when they should be managing the process)…

The importance of energy in facilitation

Michael Wilkinson is one of the commercially busiest facilitators. I’m not won over his style, which makes facilitation sound quite mechanical, but in this TedX video he touches upon the important aspect of energy in facilitation – or rather energy in the facilitator, which helps energise the topic, the participants and the facilitator. Pity this video doesn’t talk directly about the energy of participants. Still, a good point is being made here. Inform-excite-empower-involve in the first 15 minutes!

Facilitation techniques – part 1 of 3:  

This guy clearly has quite some experience, and he introduces some interesting basics of facilitation. So overall the point is there. But his approach has a number of aspects that I don’t feel really excited about – to say the least – e.g. ‘no stories’ reinforces the point that participants should shut up (NOT a good idea); I’m also not convinced about the ‘justification rule’ – sometimes you can’t justify every of your point and it might condemn you to shut up if you feel you can’t justify. The presenter also confuses ‘paraphrasing‘ for ‘mirroring’.

Meeting facilitation

About this video, I would like to just point to the useful HALT acronym in this video (Hungry – Angry – Lonely – Tired). The facilitation approach suggested is quite pushy otherwise.

Facilitation in practice (demonstrated)

This has been difficult to find. But my KM4Dev friends came to rescue and:

Nancy White mentioned that the site ‘Liberating Structures’ has peppered its pages with videos. Some of them are available here: http://www.liberatingstructures.com/km-marquee-projects.

And these videos featuring friend and fellow facilitator Camilo Villa (in Spanish but giving an idea of the dynamics):

With International Organization for Migration: https://youtu.be/ADN9Vtge-IU
With WorldBank, MetroLab in Argentina: https://youtu.be/iq-y_8NAhkw
Sophie Alvarez also mentioned: Our wikipage for the Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis (PIPA) methodology, which has, sadly, been a bit abandoned lately, has some facilitation of parts of a PIPA workshop in videos, here: you can see problem tree and network drawing in action (in Spanish, with English subtitles), and some ways we facilitate it.
Carl Jackson mentioned: “here’s a nice video of using Open Space facilitation to support CLA strategy development for USAID Indonesia Country Office: https://youtu.be/WJaPFKTXQTg”.
At last, Chris Grose mentioned: “Our videos at IMA International highlight much of our face to face work.  They can be found here: http://www.imainternational.com/video_gallery” 

And finally – a facilitation model for group dynamics


This is a different video, featuring Sam Kaner talking about ‘Participatory Decision-Making in Multi-Stakeholder Collaborations’. The group dynamics framework he offers is explained from minute 51 or so. As usual there’s some really rich content there so I hope you find this useful too!

What facilitation videos do YOU refer to?


What is the role of a facilitator (and of a moderator, MC, chair etc.)?

I briefly touched upon this topic on the ‘about’ page to this blog. But not quite seriously enough.

And as I gave training on group facilitation skills last week, this question came up in various shapes until I had to nail it down, on the spot, thus without additional resources on the topic.

So hereby some attempt at clarifying what a facilitator does… and what some related functions are all about.

What is a facilitator? (Credits: Brefi Group Ltd.)

When I started drafting this post, I had just read this blog post by Martin Gilbraith, a former chair from the International Association of Facilitators. The video he featured has interesting features – particularly on the architect metaphor – though I wonder if there’s not a better local metaphor than the airplane pilot or the rowing galley leader to what a facilitator is and does.

In my view the facilitator metaphor might even work better with an object perhaps: a reflector (like a mirror), agent provocateur, lighthouse… for sure there’s no clear-cut answer to this question. Perhaps a facilitator is some kind of ‘everyday shaman’ who helps people reveal their own visions, though we (facilitators) don’t use magic mushrooms, lick magic toads’ backs or do other funky things to invoke any kind of magic… Perhaps a facilitator is simply a group coach…

Or using the Community at Work language, the facilitator is someone who ‘stays out of the content and manages the process, to help everyone do their best thinking’.

What can be confusing is that in practice many people have different definitions. So let’s have a look at a number of functions that are commonly associated with or confused for facilitator:


The moderator (Credits: Gaspars Karda/FlickR)
The moderator (Credits: Gaspars Karda/FlickR)

As this post is helpfully clarifying, “A moderator at events, meetings, and networking gatherings will concentrate on keeping the communication and information flow clear and accessible to everyone that participates, at all times. So, the moderator is sort of like an information manager. In an Internet-based environment, he or she monitors the flow of communication, makes digests and summaries, approves posts, and even maintains the online environment. The moderator is usually invisible, but still very essential.” The same post continues saying: “An event moderator offers assistance to presenters and the audience. A facilitator keeps things moving along and makes sure everyone is participating.” Here is where things get more complicated: in French ‘Modérateur’ is often the name used for facilitators. But here you have a technical distinction…

Key distinction: The moderator works on getting content flowing VS. the facilitator focuses on the process that helps everyone participate in the best possible way.

MC (Master of Ceremony) 

The Master of ceremony (Credits: Martin)
The Master of ceremony (Credits: Martin)

The video below gives a short aussie glimpse of the difference between MC (also interchangeably called host) and facilitator. It suggests that “the MC, in very formal settings, conducts the event” – like a TV presenter would. This means they could really meddle with the content, not care so much about the feelings of participants and actually probably focus more on the on-stage guests than on the audience etc. A facilitator really has to pay attention to remaining neutral (on the content and on relationships) and acting in the best interest of all the participants. So there you have it!

Key distinction: The MC is the host to a formal event conductor who focuses on the speakers and guests VS. the facilitator is brought by a host to help focus on the process and on the participants.

The chair, to the left (Credits: OECD)
The chair, to the left (Credits: OECD)


This post offers one reason behind the confusion: these two functions are often played by the same person – though they are very different and “The Chair is responsible for the meeting’s outcomes and work product. The facilitator is responsible for the process of the meeting(s).” The same site suggests that when there is a high(er) chance of conflict in the meeting or process, hiring a separate facilitator is a good idea. In my experience with academic events, the ‘chair’ is also the person that tends to introduce the speakers and sometimes summarises key insights at the end. So a chair(person) is definitely a content-rich and high-stake function, whereas the facilitator “stays out of the content and manages the process” and is not the person calling the shots for what has to be achieved with the meeting but rather helps the leader with ‘how’ to achieve the objectives that matter to them.

Key distinction: The chair focuses on outcomes and work product VS. the facilitator focuses on getting all participants to these outcomes by bringing in their best thinking.

The leader (Credits: Christian Pierret)
The leader (Credits: Christian Pierret)

Leader / person in charge 

The leader – or person in charge – is the person that makes the decision, gives direction, calls the shots, decides about hosting a meeting or an event, has to clarify what their intent and expected outcomes are about it and thus it is someone that has important stakes in that event. They are the person(s) that the facilitator should come back to when some decisions need to be made on e.g. ‘spending more time on this conversation’ or ‘moving on to the next agenda point’ etc. The leader is a sparring partner for the facilitator when designing events. But the facilitator clearly should be a distinct function from the person in charge, even though it’s not always possible…

Key distinction: The person in charge decides the topics and objectives (the what and why) VS. the facilitator focuses on the process (the how) that gets participants to address the former.

Time keeper 

The time keeper (Credits: ios online)
The time keeper (Credits: ios online)

As indicated, this function is about keeping track of the time. Which is often what a facilitator also has to do – among many other things – but this is not the most important of his/her many tasks. And actually it’s usually more helpful for a facilitator to not really manage the time and rather manage the process and the relationships with all participants (making sure that everyone feels involved and valued). This is a very narrow window to the world of facilitation.

Key distinction: The time keeper makes sure things stay ‘on course, in time’ VS. the facilitator focuses on getting people to engage most meaningfully, even if that may mean getting over time.

The rapporteur (Credits: European Parliament)
The rapporteur (Credits: European Parliament)


Sometimes the facilitator is being asked to document conversations or the entire meeting. And that can be fine – though not alone and certainly not when the facilitator is ‘facilitating’ but typing up charts, sharing other notes etc. can be ok. The formal rapporteur of an event, however, really has a 100% mandate and dedication to their very job: paying attention to every point being shared, clarifying anything that is unclear and making sure that the entire content is captured and reported in a formal ‘output’ whether verbatim or usually in a synthesised format. So once again a very different role from the facilitator’s.

Key distinction: The rapporteur writes the formal content report from the event and shares it afterwards VS. the facilitator manages the process of the event while it’s happening.

Chart writer 

The chart writer (Credits: TheGraphicRecorder.com)
The chart writer (Credits: TheGraphicRecorder.com)

Another kind of person that ‘documents’ meetings in a specific way is the ‘chart writer’. The chart writer works in tandem with the facilitator to live ‘chart’ the key points that the facilitator is feeding him/her (as they take the cue from the facilitator’s paraphrasing). This function is about ensuring the collective group memory is kept and everyone sees their comments validated etc. But in any case facilitator and chart writer work together and are thus not the same function, even though in practice with my colleague here we alternate facilitating and chart writing for each other.

Key distinction: The chart writer collects and writes ideas from participants (often fed by the facilitator) VS. the facilitator manages the conversation process to hear these ideas.

So there are many possible distinctions – and aside all of the above the facilitator often plays different roles:

The many roles of a facilitator (Credits: IAF)
The many roles of a facilitator (Credits: IAF)

And here I’m not even covering other specific functions such as the graphic facilitator – as that deserves a dedicated post on its own, for some other time. And there are yet other distinctions…

Trainer vs. facilitator vs. consultant (Credits: Doug Caldwell)
Trainer vs. facilitator vs. consultant (Credits: Doug Caldwell)

This post is also just an invitation to my next post on this blog, which will be – by public demand from the same group of trainees this week – about videos on facilitation…

For now, here’s just a teaser that points to some of the fundamentals of what a facilitator does. Don’t mind the commercial ending (better: stop the video when it starts 😉

This video is not perfect – and the take on ‘documenting’ is not a requirement for a facilitator, just an option, but it certainly points to some of the basics. More (and deeper) soon!

The chemistry of magical facilitation (2b) – And play more with the BOSSY HERALD!

Agile KM for me... and you?

Participants: Who are they? What are they coming for? (credits: ILRI)

In the second part of this second chapter on the chemistry of magical (event) facilitation, I will examine the attendance (the participants), the location and the dynamics of the event, the other three crucial elements to make the HERALD play for you, as well as the matter at hand: the content.

Attendance (the participants)

The people that participate to your event are perhaps the most important and delicate part behind the success (or failure) of your entire event because you can prepare and mould every other bit of the event, but not your participants.

So when looking at your attendance, think about: presence, profile and relation (both now and after the event).

Presence of participants
Presence relates both to their physical and to their emotional/intellectual presence.

First of all, you need the physical presence of your participants. How many are planning to come? How many are effectively coming? There are…

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The chemistry of magical facilitation (2) – Put the bossy herald to play for you

Agile KM for me... and you?

Facilitation is the art of seamlessly inviting all contributions to collective sense-making. As such it is an essential element of knowledge sharing, knowledge management and social learning.

So, in the previous chapter of this series, we’ve looked at the big picture of facilitation, how to handle the BOSSY HERALD, particularly in its bossy part. Let’s assume we’re there, we’ve dealt with the politics of the event. Now comes the moment to apply the design in practice i.e. to focus on the HERALD (part) in detail, and to put it to play for you. This moves the reflection from ‘what should be?’ to ‘what could be’. The herald determines the ballpark you play with. Each of its pointers helps you design the workshop in a more appropriate and operational way.

In this second chapter, I’m looking at the first three pointers of the HERALD: How-to/heuristics (facilitation tools and approaches)…

View original post 2,061 more words