Updated: Apr 7
I once said in an interview, “lets play a game”.
The game was simple, “who can make it to the Gin Bar with their eyes closed”.
1. Keep your eyes closed at-all-times
2. If you touch anything along the way you’re out and you're gin-less
Person one stands up, I give a clear instruction: “Please make your way to the gin bar”. Three steps later person one kicks a chair, and despite pleading their case and wanting a second go, sorry no Gin for you today.
Time for person two. They close their eyes and this time I give a series of instructions: When I say go, I want you to turn 90 degrees to your left, take two steps forward, turn 90 degrees to your right, take 4 steps forward, turn 90 degrees left then walk straight out to the Gin bar. Person two did really well but unfortunately walked into the door frame. I just realised I made the person interviewing me walk into a door. Can’t turn back now.
Person three stands up, but this time instead of giving instructions I ask them to close their eyes. I begin to ask person three a series of questions. “How are you feeling?”, “What are you nervous about?” and “what can I do for you that is going to help you get to the Gin bar today?” Let’s revisit this later…
There’s an old Chinese proverb you may have heard before: Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand. That proverb rings true with what I am speaking about today. Facilitation is an art form, it is inspiring others to be their best, it is being a guide to helping people think for themselves and unlock their true potential.
Anyone can teach. But teaching isn’t facilitating, to facilitate is to think, to ask the right questions, to actively listen, to create synergy, to solve problems and take your people on a journey of discovery together.
Organisations need people with great facilitation skills. Because without them, your organisation risks stagnation and unhelpful conflict. Think of a person or group shouting as loud as they can to get what they want. They may get what they want but that’s not going to be the optimal outcome for everyone involved, they may not have considered all the possibilities. A mentor once said to me, “without effective facilitation you will find it hard to mine the pool of intelligence and creativity within your group”.
Think about a moment in your career where you received guidance from a facilitator. What did they do well? How did they make you feel? A good facilitator believes in their message, but more importantly they believe in you!
Here are some skills I believe makes a great facilitator:
- Prepare: To design and plan the group process and select the tools that best help the group progress.
- Listening: Having the ability to listen actively and hear what every learner or team member is saying.
- Questioning: Being skilled in asking questions that are open-ended and stimulate discussion.
- Clear communication: Understanding and conversing with one another is how we achieve meaningful work. Make sure instructions are clear with group understanding.
- Storytelling: Stories are important to humans. They have been passed through generations for learning and bring us together. A good facilitator will open imaginations through storytelling.
- Unbiased objectivity: Keep opinions to yourself by remaining impartial. Your goal is to hold them to the agreed guidelines.
- Problem-solving: Applying group problem-solving techniques. Defining a problem, determining a cause, considering solutions, weighing advantages and disadvantages, selecting and implementing the best solution and evaluating the results.
- Use a participative style: They should encourage all learners to actively engage and contribute and create a safe environment that allows people to do so.
- Accepting others: Someone who maintains an open mind and does not criticise ideas.
- Empathy: Having the ability to “walk a mile in another’s shoes” to understand the learners feelings.
- Leading: Always keep the training focused on achieving the outcome identified beforehand.
- Time management: Often the most difficult, keeping on time. A good facilitator will move according to schedule and show an ability to adapt.
Now that you understand the art of facilitating, why it is important, and the skills great facilitators possess, let’s go back to the beginning and find out what happened to person three?
First, I made sure person three was comfortable by the use of effective questioning. I was clear in my communication whilst actively listening to what they were saying demonstrating empathy for their concerns. Through effective questioning, I allowed person three to think for themselves and work out a strategy that worked for them. Together, we had the one goal in mind, to get to that Gin bar.
Open your eyes. To person three’s delight we were standing right in front of the Gin bar. Shall I pour us all one? Wait, no Aaron, you’re still in a job interview here. I am not going to lie, I had that look in my eye of “I think we should all have one”.
So, what did we learn here? Person one unfortunately was met with leadership paternalism. A clear and concise instruction “do this?”. It may be effective in some organisations, but not in the learning space. Person two was on the end of an inexperienced facilitator that demonstrated behaviours all too common. Providing clear instructions, telling their people what they need to do to achieve a goal. The scary thing is, there are facilitators out there believing this to be the most effective way. I’d ask myself, “did I inspire my people?”, “did I help them unlock their true potential?”
We are a team of experienced facilitators who speak in such a way that others love to listen. In turn, we listen in a way that others love to speak to us. So yes, I got the job which is why I am sitting here writing to you today. Did I have a Gin on day one? They say no question is a silly one, but that one just might be…
Acceler8 are a creative L&D consultancy that focuses on human connection. By immersing ourselves in your brand, getting to know your people, your language and your roots, we always deliver highly engaging training via creative, activity-based material that will capture your people at every turn.
Let’s achieve a shared goal together.