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Top Takeaways: Advanced Facilitation
Six top takeaways and their implications and applications for your facilitation.
Approximate reading time: four minutes.
Several recent posts have referenced Advanced Facilitation: Facilitation with a Gestalt Focus by Trevor Bentley and Howard Boorman. It is a slim (less than 70 pages), but powerful volume, and is available for $16.15 USD from Lulu Publishing.
Here are few of my top takeaways from the book, why they resonate with me, and/or how to apply them.
Advance facilitation “is more about the way the facilitator is, and less about what they do; more about attending to what is happening in the group, than making things happen more about increasing the group’s awareness of their own process rather than determining what that process should be” (p. 7).
In this type of facilitation, the group leads and the facilitator supports the group from alongside or even lagging a bit behind them. It involves sharing observations of what the facilitator sees happening, but allowing the group to decide what to do next. It is more about asking questions than offering directives or prescriptive advice.
Operating in this manner, in my experience, is uncomfortable for some in the facilitator role, particularly if they are used to being one who “makes things happen.” Facilitative success is less about the quantity of your contributions and more about the quality of your interventions and how they help the group, even if they are quite few in number.
“One way of looking at the advanced facilitator’s role is to get out of the group’s way when they are working well and to also be readily available to the group when needed.”
This is what I mean when I suggest effective facilitation operates from a position of restraint. We keep much of our skills, insights, and capabilities in reserve, only bringing them to bear when absolutely necessary to help the group move forward. We always want to respect individual and group autonomy to figure things out for themselves; hence my belief that we should ask a group “would you like a hint?” rather than just offer one if we see them struggling during a group activity. Remember, learning and growth require a mixture of challenge and support.
“Advanced facilitators need to pick up on the existing, or emerging hierarchy and rather than force a false equality across the group, they need to work with how the group is self-organizing its own processes” (p. 21).
As many of us increase our focus to ensure equitable and inclusive conversations occur, this takeaway has interesting implications. I often use different formats or processes to try and impede less than equitable distribution of power or participation in groups. Bentley and Boorman advocate for facilitators to help surface the actual power dynamics occurring and support the group in discussing and managing them. I’ve modified my facilitation to include a bit of both approaches.
“Sometimes it is possible to sense a lack, or loss of engagement. Facilitators can check this out by asking something like, ‘What needs to be happening right now that isn’t happening?’” (p. 34).
Such a simple, but powerful question that once again reflects an underlying commitment to helping groups own their process. I’ve used this question (or some variation of it) to great effect.
“We believe that engagement is the key to effective group work, and that engagement can be very high when energy is low and very low when energy is high.… Artificially heightening energy levels can draw people out of a place that might be very useful and supportive for them, and the rest of the group” (p; 39).
Engagement* is a top goal for many workshop presenters, but too often they associate engagement with verbal participation and or high energy behavior. This takeaway reminds us to be more inclusive in how we think of engagement, and to honor, support, and create space for more reflective and thoughtful engagement that at a glance, may appear to be anything but.
*Bentley and Boorman define engagement as “energy for and commitment towards purpose.” I love this definition and its implications and in some sessions have asked at the onset “Describe your level of commitment to the purpose and intended outcomes for today’s meeting.”
“One of the wonderful things about moments of incompetence is that they allow us to display our competence in the way that we deal with our incompetence. In other words, the way we deal with the consequences of our incompetence and work to repair the situation that arises is a powerful demonstration of our competence” (p. 62).
If you’re feeling anxious about the word incompetence as it pertains to your facilitation, here’s what Boorman and Bentley mean: “Within the context of this book we define incompetence as the momentary lack of capacity to perform as we would want to, and as we are usually able to do.”
That’s a bit less threatening, right? When facilitating, we all will have moments where we fall short of applying our skills and knowledge in the most effective manner. Successfully managing those moments demonstrates not only the fuller range of our competence, but also models that any human being can recover from mistakes or what some would see as exposed vulnerability.
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