Workshop facilitation is a skill that many organisations still do not realise that they need on a wider basis. Facilitated workshops are able to achieve many things that unguided meetings are unable to. This comes from their structure, their pace, their methods to hear difference voices, and having a person whose job it is to keep everyone on track.
‘Be the guide and not the hero’ is a good mantra for all facilitators out there. It is something that may need repeating when you are in the middle of a difficult workshop where some may be looking to the facilitator for answers.
What Is Facilitation?
The word facilitate is a verb that comes from the 1610s and is descended from French and Latin – ”make easy, render less difficult,” from French faciliter ”to render easy,” from stem of Latin facilis ”easy to do.”
The Cambridge Dictionary defines the noun facilitation as “the act of helping other people to deal with a process or reach an agreement or solution without getting directly involved in the process, discussion etc. yourself.” 
This means that a facilitator is not usually a part of the team and may not even be a part of your organisation. The role of the facilitator is to guide participants through the process to achieve an outcome in the allocated time. It is the facilitators job to make sure that the discussion does not stray too far from the topic at hand and that organisational politics are kept to a minimum. The focus is on the process and the outcome. In other words, facilitation helps groups get things done.
Many meetings in organisation are broken. There are many reasons for this. They can be hijacked by the loudest voices or those who are better at office politics than others. There are 4 main issues where a facilitator can help solve:
- Poor collaboration
- Unproductive meetings that waste time
- Companies not getting the best out of their expert employees
- People lacking ownership over solutions
Helping With Objectivity
Objectivity is one of the crucial pieces of being a good facilitator and it is something that you always strive for. It is through this objectivity that you are able to help manage the heat, the feelings, the politics, and all the other things that happen when decisions are being made and budgets needing to be allocated or spent. With this objectivity, facilitators help in the four main ways.
Collaboration is Broken
Alludo’s The State of Collaboration Report 2022  had some very interesting results. It mirrors the sentiments that you can hear around the world when it comes to meetings. It gave 3 statistics that reflect how employees are currently feeling about their work:
- 70% of employees agree that poor collaboration is limiting their productivity and wasting their time
- 64% of employees report that they waste a minimum of three hours per week
- 20% wasting as many as six hours weekly 
The responsibility for these statistics come down to leadership. 78% reported that their organisation’s leadership for “not doing enough to promote collaboration within the organisation”. This includes not investing or providing the right tools or in training of collaboration tools. Facilitators, in essence, are collaboration tools.
Unproductive meetings that waste time
Meetings are almost universally disliked and they are also high on the list of things people wish would change in their organisation’s culture. Traditional meetings, while they are suitable for some kinds of actions, are rarely successful in creating an atmosphere that feels productive, collaborative, and effective. Many meetings end with planning the next meeting- either to deal with the things that did not get resolved today or for new issues that came up while trying to discuss something else.
Traditional meetings are rarely successful in creating an atmosphere that feels productive, collaborative, and effective.
This cycle ends up with people going to meeting after meeting rather than actually being able to do their jobs. Having a facilitator when a decision needs to be made can be really important to a successful outcome.
Companies are not getting the best out of their employees
Organisations hire experts to add value. Adding value requires getting the best out of their expertise. Just because someone is an expert in one thing does not mean that they are experts in collaboration or in how to share their knowledge effectively with others. It can sometimes be difficult to figure out how to bring experts together and know how to get these experts to work together in a way that they understand each other.
People lack ownership over solutions
When people don’t feel heard, they step back from the outcome. During a properly facilitated workshop, each participant will have the chance to have their voice heard just as much as anyone else. They will also participate equally in the decisions that are made along the way. One of the reasons that it is important that the facilitator be the guide and not the hero (the one that comes up with the best idea) is because at the end of it, the participants must own the outcome and be willing to do the work that will be needed to bring it to reality.
Facilitation Is a Top Future Skill
Facilitation does not only help organisations to work better, when learned, facilitation skills help individuals to future-proof their own skillset. According to the 2020 report by The World Economic Forum , the top skills employers will prioritize these 10 skills. The last 5 on this list are all practiced and exercised when using facilitation.
- Leadership and social
- Active learning and learning strategies
- Technology design and programming
- Resilience, stress tolerance
- Technology use, monitor and control
- Analytical thinking and innovation
- Complex problem solving
- Critical thinking and analysis
- Creativity, originality and initiative
- Reasoning, problem-solving and ideation
Facilitation helps to give structure to all of these 5 points that helps individuals and organisations accomplish more than they would without it. Being able to give structure to things such as complex problems, innovation, creativity, problem-solving, and ideation is a valuable skill to have. Being the guide and not the hero is emblematic of providing the structure rather than being the content expert. It is the glue that holds the experts together so that they can do their job and actually solve the problems and creating intelligent and innovative solutions.
Pamela Spokes works as a Service Designer in Metropolia’s RDI team. Originally from Canada, Pamela has years of experience in university admin focusing on international recruitment, marketing, and the international student/staff experience. With a Bachelor’s from Canada, a Master’s degree from Sweden, an MBA in Service Innovation & Design from Laurea, and her AmO from Haaga-Helia, she is interested in purposefully designed experiences that are centred around the user. Don’t be surprised if she knocks on your door to talk about learning co-creation methods through intensive learning experiences.