How Facilitators can change the World.

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

This article explores three qualities of trained facilitators that can improve significantly the way we work together in the world.

First let’s 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’d like to talk about:

1) Neutrality –

A facilitator in it’s purest sense is content neutral. This 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  also has their attention on the group’s purpose, can this help to manifest it?

Have you ever told a story to someone just to have a witness? 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 members the feeling of being 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 their 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 present in a 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 this can get the group back into performing well.

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 is heard. The facilitator is also standing in the intention that every contribution is valid, and every difference is valued. 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 under used resource in organisations is the intellectual and creative potential of 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 but they get really caught up in semantics when trying to define the ‘group culture’. 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 primarily works 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 trigger fear. Having an experienced facilitator who is ‘content neutral’ can help to create a safe space to interrupt patterns, allowing for change to happen.

#Facilitation, #Collaboration, #Collective Intelligence, #SharedPower

by Simone Maus


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.