Facilitation – Are You Serious? (or the differences between training and facilitation)

One evening at my local comedy club, I was surprised by the enthusiastic caning “facilitation” received by one grinning comic, urged on by a baying crowd. The subject was a critique of business mores and language, you know the kind of thing; business consultants, will borrow your watch and tell you the time, is business language ridiculous? Well let’s run it up the flagpole and see if it flies etc etc.

I too have enjoyed this kind of thing before but was surprised to find facilitation under attack in this way. I had just not included the act of facilitation within the many other examples of the grotesquely comic aspects of work life. As a facilitator, even one with a sense of humour I was unsure how I felt about being included amongst the role call of the daft.

It seems therefore important for me to consider the question “Facilitation: Are You Serious?”. Is facilitation a legitimate activity which brings real benefits for organisations, workers and customers? And if so, how does it bring such payback worth the investment of time and energy? Firstly, is facilitation just a fancy-pants way of describing a type of training?

Should you take a camera into any training room in any business on any working day and take a photograph, the results will be very much the same. There will always be a flipchart in the picture and almost certainly a projector/screen/laptop set-up. The person standing will probably be leading the session, the people facing will be the delegate group. Is this facilitation or training? We won’t know until we spend a bit more time watching and listening to what is going on.

In a training session we’ll see information passing from the session leader (or trainer) to the the group. Skilled and knowledgeable trainers know that the job isn’t done by this point, they will use exercises to encourage reflection on this new material, it’s application in the specific environments where the delegates will expect to use and some general conceptualising on the usefulness of the information and where it fits with the delegates view of the world, using well established ideas about adult learning. Emphatically it is about this new information and how it can be used by the group. There is something in the room, the information, which wasn’t there before the session and it came through the door, probably in the trainer’s laptop.

To the casual observer the facilitated session may look no different. The person at the front speaks, there is discussion, and there may be further conversation in pairs or perhaps in sub-groups of the main group, as would happen in a training session. Closer observance may bring new information. The PowerPoint presentation has questions on it, the trainer/facilitated is using the language spoken within the group, he or she is not presenting material but giving space to the material spoken, or perhaps written, by those in the group.

In a purely facilitated session, nothing comes in through the door it is already within the room at the start of the programme. It may not have existed in the same structure, nor within the knowledge of every group member, but in some form it will have been present. Through promoting a conversation, turning each member of the group towards their colleague, the subject for discussion is explored, thoughts shared, new concepts considered, ideas floated, plans hatched, resolve strengthened, relationships forged.

“Sounds lovely” says my sardonic comic friend, having now taken up residence in my head, “but isn’t this just a soppy way of getting people to do things better? Wouldn’t it just be easier to tell people what they need to do?”

Of course he is right. In many situations regarding technical knowledge it easier to describe to people what they need to do. Take a mechanical job like changing a carburettor on a motor vehicle. Much better to take a look at the manual, consult a knowledgeable friend or qualified mechanic than stand around envisaging a time in the future when we can go for a spin. That would be what our pal would call “naval gazing”. (What use is comedy anyhow?)

However there are many areas of human endeavour which are more complex and in which we are all involved. As technical problems become more complex, we leave it up to the experts. However as people problems become complex – and let’s face it they usually are, the application of off-the-shelf solutions may be less successful. Central to this line of thought are two threads, (a) human beings like to have agency over what happens to them and (b) people are so much more convinced about what comes out of their own mouths than other people’s, however senior or apparently well involved.

Like this? Why not find out more about the “Introduction to Solution Focused Facilitation” training courses I’m running http://bit.ly/cPwm5h

Fabio Cappello – Is He Too Shouty?

I don’t know about you but I sensed a small but perceptible shift towards Cappello lest Friday night (England Algeria link), notwithstanding the disappointment at the poor performance. The ITV commentary team started speculating at how the England players, professional athletes and stars to a man for their club teams, appeared so tense during this terrible game.

The commentators, presumably in lieu of anything on the field to talk about, began to speculate that maybe, just maybe Cappello was a bit hard on the boys. Up to that point Cappello has been seen as a largely benign character who has a florid way of behaving on the touch line. Pundits would laughingly talk about the “roasting” the players would have at half time, that Fabio would be doing his “hairdryer” effect on anyone who had not given (ahem) 110% in the first half.

I wonder what area of human endeavour is improved by people in charge shouting at those doing the job?

What would I know, I’m Welsh…….

Learn Solution Focused Facilitation

Many people have responded very positively to the news that I am to run some Solution Focused Facilitation Training – many thanks. I am very happy that the time has come to do this.

Like a lot of people, I came from that element of society who wanted to “make a difference”. Born in a working class community, interested in left wing politics, one of the last generations who went happily off to Higher Education without the fear of a £20K debt, I had a chance to mix with others and try out lifestyle and ideas – a rare privilege. Shortly after graduating I got involved first in education, community work and eventually social work. I enjoyed both the practice of working with people and the ideas that informed my actions and the organisations within which I worked. As my career progressed I became what many people would call “pragmatic”. Somewhat disillusioned, and with one eye on future employment and business opportunities, I wandered away from my faith in people. Solutioned Focus work has brought me back to “making a difference”.

Work means a lot to people. It is the most significant opportunity in most people’s lives to grow, fulfill our potential and forge meaningful and supportive relationships. A through audit of everything that we appreciate about work is a wonderfully refreshing experience. What we recognise as our own achievements, value in our colleagues and appreciate in our customers and clients are the things that give us the most satisfaction.

Conventional organisational and business culture is highly analytical. Organisational development approaches lead to a great deal of energy exerted in “finding what’s wrong and fixing it”. This leads to a focus on failure and problems by those charged with developing the company and a wish to avoid blame by those involved in that particular work area. Generally pretty demoralising.

Solution Focus has given me and my clients an opportunity to support development in an appreciative way. Strengths are quickly recognised, areas for change are discussed in terms of what people want to see in the future, growth is a subject for the imagination, improvements described in small ways which – in many cases – seem to happen as the group discusses them. Weird.

I hope that I’ll see you there.

: – )


Introduction to Solution Focused Facilitation

Begin to build skills in Solution Focused Facilitation to promote a constructive atmosphere. Generate creativity and learning, manage conflict, support change and innovation.

Cost: £125 place including lunch (£125 early bird or second company delegate price – contact us for details)

Trainer: Philip Jones, Workplace Dynamics

How Will You Benefit?

At the end of the day delegates will

  • Be able to create a positive and dynamic group atmosphere
  • Know how to encourage people focus on what they want (rather than what they don’t want)
  • Understand how to assist people to find a way forward, even in the most challenging of environments
  • Have techniques to help them develop appreciation between work colleagues
  • Be able to help teams to find their own solutions to problems they face
  • Be more confident in managing high levels of conflict
  • Clearly understand the Solution Focused Facilitation process

Who should attend?

  • Trainers – enhancing the facilitation elements of their courses
  • Facilitators – adding to their tool kit
  • Managers – building better ways of communicating with their teams
  • Consultants – encouraging people to talk in constructive ways and take action
  • Lecturers – engaging your students in new material
  • Researchers – getting people to share information willingly
  • Project Managers – promoting buy-in from project teams and stakeholders
  • Community Leaders – structuring appreciative conversations with local people
  • Conference chairs – designing exercises to get delegates responding
  • Youth Leaders – constructing an atmosphere of appreciation and ownership
  • Mediators – enabling conversations in the most difficult of circumstances
  • Teachers – creating the conditions for young people to contribute to their own learning
  • Sports and Business Coaches – getting everyone involved in reviewing performance and planning development
  • Others wishing to further their experience in Solution Focus

Workplace Mediation

Unhappy workplace relationships interfere with your ability to get things done and risk formal action. Workplace mediation can bring about good solutions for everyone

Take a look at how I work

Team Facilitation

Your greatest assets are your staff. With team facilitated sessions I can enable you to access untapped resources. Help your people find their motivation and use these to deliver more for the business.

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Support for Managers

Specialising in building staff engagement and better relationships, I can provide training and coaching for your managers on how to get the best out of, and for, your staff.

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