Facilitation is Process Delivery

5 fundamental structures from "The Meeting Leader's Guide to Facilitation"

Five fundamental facilitation structures from “The Meeting Leader’s Guide to Facilitation”

In the last article I discussed the distinctions between facilitation, facilitators, and facilitative. The point was that people in other professions may call themselves facilitators but are likely to be just professionals using facilitative methods to accomplish their primary job. The main distinction was recognizing where content and neutrality of roles crossed paths. In closing that article I mentions how important process was to the group facilitator. In this article I’m going to address that.

By definition a facilitator is someone who makes things easy. To the client work of a facilitator is often not much more than a plan that provides a pathway for the chaos to emerge through and be shaped or transformed into something useful and meaningful. To the participant the group facilitator is often someone that acts as a gateway managing the flow of chaotic thoughts and feelings, passing some and restraining others. They are someone that operates in the moment that is sometimes slowing the group to think, or dragging them to a new epiphany.

Facilitation is not magic. It is not something we are born to. It is a set of skills that help people communicate with meaning. Yes, some personality types take to it faster and with a natural ease than others. However, anyone can learn to be facilitative. Note the word, facilitative.

OK based on the last article we can assume the facilitator is neutral to the content [i]. That means that they don’t take sides, they don’t make decisions for the group, or even steer the group toward any of the options identified. We can also assume that there are specialized knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) that facilitators bring to the table. These are KSAs that everyone should have, but among facilitators these KSAs should be a little more predominant. Key among them are great listening skills, the ability to ask the right questions, keeping things concrete, present and visual to the group, and some sort of conflict management skills. However, chief among the keys, the master key if you will, is the use of models and frameworks to deliver designed group processes that meet the specific and changing needs of various groups they facilitate.

A facilitator that uses designed processes can appear to work off the cuff. They can appear to be some sort of magical savant that is just winging their way through a conversation. While they do this participants are actually hearing and thinking about what others are saying and they understand what was meant by the words used. Their questions are answered, often, it seems, without being asked, and their concerns are heard and considered. They are included in the conversation and decision-making.

Often, but not always, in one approach to facilitation the specific process used by the facilitator is known only to the facilitator. However, in another the facilitator uses their process to engage the entire groups and they try to pass along some of their KSAs to group members. By the way, these two approaches are called Basic and Developmental Facilitation and represent one of the highest level concepts of the way we approach our jobs as facilitators. I’ll discuss these two approaches in a later article.

But why do I describe facilitation as process delivery? Facilitators do their work with a group in the moment. However, what is not seen is the significant amount of time spent preparing for an event and the years of training and practice the facilitator underwent to bring them to that moment.

Some facilitation courses teach people basic techniques, some of which I mentioned above, Usually, a facilitation course will teach facilitators a process that wraps around the use of the tools [ii] and techniques [iii] Meaning they are taught specific methods [iv] to accomplish a process. For example, I once went to a course that was supposed to teach me the “WV Problem Solving Method” when what it actually taught was the techniques the instructor, or writers, associated with the steps of that model. To be more direct in teaching the model the instructor could have suggested or even requested input from the participants on tools and techniques that would accomplish the intent of each of the steps of a model.

Professional facilitators learn, and sometimes develop, several models and frameworks that they use on a daily basis. Examples include discussion methodologies; like ORID, FEMA, or What, So What, Now What, problem solving methodologies; like ICE or Adaptive Problem Solving and the Osborn Parnes Creative Problem Solving Models. Models and Frameworks exist for many of the things we do on a regular basis. I once wrote a short booklet around five of the most important and well used models and frameworks that I use as a facilitator.


The table above depicts the five models and frameworks. These models and frameworks represent elements of the process, big steps, that we design using various methods. So a big part of our job as facilitators is to determine what model is appropriate to the situation, then select the methods through the tools and techniques, to be used to ensure that model or framework is fully employed.  This is how facilitators are all about process delivery. Now, there are other things we do, but I’ll talk about them in future posts. _____________________________

[i] Content: substantive or meaningful part of something, the principal substance offered, substance, gist, meaning, significance, the substantive work of the group.

[ii] Tools: items with physical characteristics that are used to accomplish various things. Ex.: white board, flip chart, sticky wall, markers, sticky-notes, talking stick, note pads, gong, index cards, banner paper, etc…

[iii]Techniques: a designed, series of steps, part of a process, complete process or a workshop intended to accomplish a specific end.

[iv]Methods: the tools and techniques, in some combination, designed to accomplish a specific outcome or output.

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