What facilitators and participants define as ‘success’

The more I get to facilitate, the more I get to understand how the definition of success (in a facilitated meeting or process) can differ in the eye of the beholder.

Particularly between facilitator and participants. Here I intentionally leave the case of the workshop leader / event organiser / decision-maker out of the picture as they are the ones with -in principle- the clearest understanding of what is there to be achieved.

Here are a few illustrations of the different success definitions between participants and facilitators:

What the participants seek What the facilitators see and seek
Good time management

No conversation dragging on, we will be able to be at home on time. Not one of these endless death-by-Powerpoint shows that leaves us aghast.

What really matters is checking that the objectives are completed, or are well on their way while preserving and even improving relationships in the group and the capacity of the group to think together.

Time management is not an end in itself, it’s a by-product that should generally be sacrificed for the purpose of reaching the objectives – if the decision-maker is ready to make these choices.


Quick progress

Let’s be reaching decisions quickly rather that holding in the mud of the elephant in the room. Let’s not open cans of worms…

Has the group really grappled with the ‘groan zone’? Has it really gone beyond the platitudes of business as usual? Until that point, no decision about complex matters is worth taking.
Reaching decisions

We are reaching a decision, whatever decision, but just not leaving the room without the impression that something (even very vaguely) action-oriented has emerged.

Is the decision one that is embedded in a clear ‘decision matrix’ and one that the entire group aspires to? Are the mechanics of that decision (who does what, when, how, why and how do we know it’s achieved) clear? Is it clear to the group what happens if that decision is not followed through?

We are enjoying the time we are being given to talking in group work and interactive spaces, for and by ourselves first and foremost.

Is the group elevating itself in its whole? Is the facilitator helping them do their best thinking and move forward collectively rather than individually? Is there a watchful eye on the relationships built?
Not noticing the flaws

(and this works positively for the facilitator too): Everything has been great about this workshop!

Oooh! So much went not exactly well, so many details to iron out – I still have so much to improve! I’m lucky that not everyone has noticed this so it doesn’t spoil their own feeling and experience


These examples illustrate the difference in the focus between the facilitator and the participants. And perhaps the key take home of this is that learning is gradual. The more you become process literate, the more you understand the finer granularity of what defines success in collective action. This is a pathway from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence.

The 4 phases of learning competency, from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence (Credits: Wan Nurhidayati Wan Johari)

4 phases of learning competency, from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence (Credits: Wan Nurhidayati Wan Johari)

It also means that as facilitators we have to keep on focusing on our edges and how to transform our practice. Tough learning, humbling as it always is.

Where is your edge in this? How does it differ from that of the participants? What has helped you realise this? What are you doing to change your pathway to unconscious competence?