Why can facilitators change the world?

Inspired by a recent discussion of facilitators about the importance of neutrality, I came home and felt drawn to write about it some more.

I like to share in this article three qualities that I see where trained facilitators can add significant value to improve the way we work together in the world.

First lets clarify the definition of a facilitator. According to Oxford Living Dictionaries a Facilitator is: "A person or thing that makes an action or process easy or easier."

According to the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) here are some more definitions:

"Chris Corrigan, a steward of the Art of Hosting practices, writes: While facilitation traditionally means 'to make things easy' I think we need a new definition that means 'to host the struggle together.' Good facilitators help create a container for people to work with difference and diversity to make good things happen."

"According to Viv McWaters, a facilitation trainer based in Australia, facilitation is not business as usual. It is disrupting and challenging the normal patterns of thinking and behaving so groups can discover something new or different about themselves and the way they work.

So here are the three qualities that I like to talk about:

1) Neutrality

A facilitator in it’s pure sense is content neutral. That neutrality allows for a witnessing presence that is holding the group process. Quantum physics has found that presence and the use of attention does move particles. So if a facilitator witnesses the group process and has also attention on the group’s purpose, does it help to manifest it? Have you ever told a story to someone witnessing it? Just being heard has a power that is hard to describe but I am sure we all have experienced it. A content neutral facilitator can give the group and it’s individuals the feeling to be heard which also helps the group members to listen better to each other. Neutrality means also not to have an agenda of its own. The facilitator is there in service to the group and it’s neutral presence allows the content and collective intelligence of the group to unfold.

I believe this is a very powerful skill and resource particularly in times of conflict and confusion. To have a content neutral facilitator there in a team's crisis allows for a safe space to explore new possibilities and to navigate change in the way a group or team works together. Something that might have been stuck for a long time could be unravelled in a session with a facilitator present and can get the group back into performing.

2) Equality - shared power or power with

A facilitator is skilled in how to share power, which enables the individuals of the group to bring in their contributions on an equal level to each other. In other words the facilitator makes sure that every person has been heard. The facilitator is also standing in the intention that every contribution is valid and values difference. In fact the attitude is not about right and wrong contributions but more about which contributions lead us to achieving our purpose. This is fertile ground for real collaboration to occur, for creativity to happen and innovation to unfold. Thomas Edison has been quoted: "I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that don't work". Thomas Edison is known as the 10th most prolific inventor in the world. So if we want to be more innovative, we need to start making mistakes. Mistakes are a natural part of creation and innovation. The faster we learn from what does not work the faster we can adapt and change. Skilled facilitators can provide help with this process of moving from competition to collaboration. The largest resource that is not used in organisations is the intellectual and creative potential of the people. Stuck in systems and power struggles is not a safe way to bring out the creative potential in us. If we are not allowed to try things out and make mistakes, how can we ever learn and invent new things? And working with power differences in a conscious way is essential for a group to thrive together.

3) Group Process Expertise

A trained facilitator is a process guide.

A facilitator can help when the group gets stuck. Let’s say a group is taking on the challenge of changing their culture and how they work together and get really stuck in semantics and their thinking minds about how the culture should be. The group comes up with some great words which hang on the wall and they talk about it at meetings but over time people just don’t even know what the words mean anymore. A facilitator can make an intervention and suggest another process to shift to another level of exploration. So let's say the group very much works in their heads and in the thinking space, another level, where a facilitator could shift the group to, could be the feeling space (heart) or the intuitive space (gut). The facilitator might suggest a process that gets people talking about what they really value and they might even go for a walk doing that or draw a picture together or write a poem which helps people to embody their unique culture of working together. Such processes can bring meaning and a more humanised engagement to the way we interact and learn.

We are all used to doing things a certain way and suggesting another process can be confronting and might even triggers fear. Having an experienced facilitator who might also be neutral to the group, can help to create a safe space to interrupt patterns and allows for change to happen.


Simone Maus, Zenergy Facilitator and Trainer