To answer that question we need first to define what a ‘facilitator’ is. A ‘facilitator’ is someone who looks after the ‘process’ in a meeting/problem solving workshop, project review or other instance when people are gathered together to tackle an ‘issue/question’.
The facilitator does not want or seek involvement in the discussion itself, they aren’t acting in this role to add their contribution to the debate. Instead their aim is to provide the group with the most appropriate: technique, tool or model to move the exploration of the subject matter forward.
As someone who has taken up golf I find that one of the key skills is not so much hitting the ball but selecting the right club. Golfers are allowed 14 clubs in their bag at any one time and choosing the right one is key to reaching the green. The caddie has an intimate knowledge of the course; the terrain, the lie and which club would be most appropriate but doesn’t play the shot!
The greatest skill a facilitator has is the ability to listen to the conversation and notice: the ‘terrain and the ‘lie’. This means they may have an understanding of the issue, they may have experienced this kind of problem before. But they don’t pre-judge or predict the outcome – otherwise why have the other people in the room?
The facilitator aims to offer the group the ‘best’ tool (club) to use. They will suggest the ‘format’ the group should use, be that: everyone using the same tool independently to get individual thought, everyone congregated together, to build a common perspective, one person sharing their view as an ‘expert’ and whether to work all together or in sub groups.
In this way the group members focus on the ‘task’ in hand and the facilitator concentrates their mind on the ‘process’. This combination of player and caddie gives the best outcome.
So does the facilitator ask questions? Certainly NOT Task questions, such as: how long has this been happening? Where are the problems? What has been your experience of the client/customer? All these questions can be answered using one of the many tools that the facilitator has in their ‘bag’.
However, they might ask the group: “would you like to use this first club/tool or use this second one, that will elicit understanding of the clients needs and motivation? Both tools will do the job but the first tool is easier and quicker the second tool takes longer to use but gives greater depth to the outcome”.
Do you have enough tools (Clubs) in your bag to help a group tackle a problem? Do you feel able to stand back from he task and focus all your energy on the process? If you do then you could make a great ‘caddy’/facilitator!
Chief Examiner for the Facilitation certification scheme by APMG International.
Director Resource Strategic Change Facilitators , http://www.resourcestrategicchange.com