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Facilitators Presence

A good facilitator is content neutral. Their role is to design and guide the people and process, not contribute towards the content.


Two quick stories to begin…

I recently observed a novice facilitator get frustrated with the group he was facilitating, he almost looked like he was angry. The responding body language in the group looked defensive, the group seemed to close…

I watched another facilitator run a session at a conference, time seemed to be passing faster than he might have planned and he began to be increasingly unhappy at the pace, with ever more forceful urges to ‘speed-up’, and ‘move on’. The group began to feel rushed and uneasy…

Facilitators have enormous influence over a groups work and effectiveness and the two brief stories above try to illustrate negative unintended consequences of facilitators presence. In both of the cases above I’m sure the facilitators did not intend to take participants away from the content - yet their presence began to get in the way and alter, not-for-the-better, the groups energy and focus.

During the
facilitation training I run at SeriousWork I propose that a facilitator should sometimes have a *big and commanding presence* and sometimes a facilitator should be *invisible* as far as the group is concerned.

But how do you know when to have big presence and when to be invisible? This is a hard question, but three obvious times to have a big presence are:

Times when a BIG Presence is helpful

  • Beginnings - getting the groups attention and gathering at starts (managing time)

  • Setting or clarifying tasks or instructions (managing tasks)

  • Helping the group communicate with each other (managing communication)

Note these three are in service of group process, NOT in service of the facilitators ego.


Times when SMALL or INVISIBLE Presence is helpful

  • When ‘the work is happening’ - if the work /conversation /progress is happening this is a good time to step back

  • When people need time to assimilate or process experience or understanding

  • When breakthroughs or heart to heart communication arises

Knowing when to have small (or even invisible) presence requires awareness of constantly shifting group energy or focus and awareness of self to know what the likely impact of a facilitators interventions will be.

A mantra we love at ProMeet is
“Facilitate the people not the process”, this reminds us that the people are more important than the planned process and that workshop process should always change if it is not meeting the needs of the people.

Facilitation is as much about knowing when to not intervene as it is being a commanding presence.

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