Sunday, 18 November 2007

different kinds of facilitation?

I've just facilitated a four-way (Washington, London, Berlin, Melbourne) PBI conference call by telephone, using concensus. It was pretty productive, we were all calm despite the fact that three of us disagreed pretty strongly with the fourth. We didn't come to a final position (we weren't meant to; awaiting more information tomorrow) but have another call scheduled for Wednesday. Yes, consensus can be time-heavy. And expensive!

But it did strike me that maybe one of things we didn't address yesterday (perhaps because we are going to do it next month?!) is that between us we were trying to practice (and be practiced on by) two different kinds of facilitation.

One is that of (training) exercises, where for the most part we are directive in the structure of the exercise, but neutral on the content - that what people say doesn't really matter to the facilitator, it's just their job to facilitate the space to enable people to say it. This kind of facilitation has its own guidelines.

The second is that of facilitating a concensus meeting, in which often (always in my experience but I recognise a 'neutral' facilitor could be drafted in) the facilitator has an opinion on the issue under consideration. This is good, fine, and in the cases the group often choses the facilitator to a greater extent than they do in exercise-facilitation (again, in my experience). And while there are rules of this kind of facilitation, as well as guidelines, techniques, etc, and the process is structured, the outcome is not. The facilitator does not know (and must not know) where s/he is taking the group - because it is not the facilitator taking the group anyway. It is the group going somewhere, and the facilitator is just one member of that group, albeit at this point in time having an additional role.

Does that distinction resonate with anyone?

And if so, which kind is TTT focussed on? My suspicion would be that as RPs we are primarily supposed to be able to do the first (exercise-facilitation) very well, and that if we can do the second (meeting-facilitation) that's an added bonus. Clearly there is a skill-overlap, but...

.. and even in writing that, I'm not sure I have got it right. Is there a better way of defining our field?


Eric the Red said...

Kathryn. Something I work on is this notion of process facilitation, as opposed to content facilitation. For example, a facilitator who is advocating an awareness of climate change and its impacts in an organisation, may well introduce concepts and get people to think through the impacts on the organisation.

Whereas a facilitator who is working with a group to come to some decision or explore an idea, need not have anything other than a superficial knowledge of the subject. And would not offer views on the content.

But, of course, there are lots of voices in this debate; and differences between schools of approach. For my part, I think it's good to know of different models, so that I can attempt to be eclectic, and to name themes and perspectives of practice when they are apparent (in me or on those I am working with).

Happy to share some leads to theory and practice with you, if you want.

kathryn said...

yes please add leads to theory and practice! xK.