The Art of Facilitation: What Makes a Great Facilitator?

In addition to individual coaching and mentoring, team workshop facilitation is one of the key services Performance Catalyst offers. Recently, during another exciting Wine&Wisdom session, we discussed the ‘art of facilitation’. The reason? Anna, one of our wonderful coaches, has embarked on her facilitator journey. Having earned her stripes with an Insights Discovery Profiles practitioner accreditation and having observed Lindi and Will in action countless times, Anna recently took her first stride in co-facilitation alongside Lindi. It was framed by a thorough pre- and post-event analysis, during which we gained various insights we can’t wait to share with you.

What was particularly powerful was a pre-workshop exercise we did together, which involved reflecting on and then sharing what we consider to be our strengths, our weakness, what makes us feel excited, motivated, and included, and also what might trigger us in a session. Co-facilitation is a chance for reflecting properly on each facilitators’ core strengths and possible blind spots. Above all, it is an opportunity for figuring out how strengths can become truly complementary and powerfully synergetic when combined. In other words: as a facilitator team we have to role-model what we teach the teams we work with. Lindi and Anna are naturally opposite Insights types – sunshine yellow and cool blue. And we have been aware of that complementarity as a strength for while.  

Co-facilitating with a trusted colleague feels like having a safety net in the room. You can rely on each other, lead and support from the side and the back, create dynamic synergies, and afterwards, you can engage in candid conversations about what worked well and what can be improved. There is “hot” feedback, the feedback straight after the event, and then there is “cold” feedback – feedback we might provide later, after letting impressions and reflections settle a little. Our inaugural joint facilitation experience also prompted us to ponder some broader questions: What makes a great facilitator? What’s the secret to making team facilitation truly effective?

Teamwork is essential in all successful organizations. Whether you’re brainstorming ideas and strategy, tackling complex problems, or collaborating on projects – the dynamics within your team significantly impact outcomes. A great facilitator possesses a unique blend of qualities that can transform a disparate group of individuals into a high-performing, well-aligned team.

We can imagine a facilitator as being like the conductor of an orchestra, guiding individual players to harmonize and create beautiful music together. We can also think of facilitators as catalysts (as we like to do of course!) – the active ingredient which creates movement and energy in the team. Or perhaps as ‘architects of possibility’ (Diane M. Enerson), who build new bridges between people and ideas. Or else we can imagine facilitators as the wind beneath the wings of a team, helping them to soar upwards and reach new heights.

A facilitator leads a group towards a common goal by encouraging courageous communication, brainstorming strategy and solutions to current challenges, and reminding people of the bigger picture and their place in it. Insights facilitators highlight individual preferences and strengths and how they can be combined more effectively in teams so that they can be stronger than the sum of their parts. Enlightening people first about their own perceptual and attitudinal preferences, and subsequently showing them the composition of their teams in terms of colour energy distribution can powerfully leverage the ability of teams to make the most of the unique gifts and skills of their team members. Teams with self-awareness of that kind can harvest the many benefits of cognitive diversity.

But how does a great facilitator do all that? Above all, a facilitator is an active listener. They have to be finely attuned to the energy levels of the participants in the room, what is said and also what isn’t said – in particular, potential underlying emotions and concerns. They have to create a safe psychological space in which people feel happy and free to share. They have to be empathetic – able to understand and to relate to the feelings of others, so that they can build rapport and trust. They also have to provide exciting intellectual input, new ideas and perspectives that allow participants to see their challenges form a different perspective. Great facilitators provide structure, frameworks and models that their participants can benefit from in the long run. Insights also provides a simple yet powerful language – the language of colour energies – which can become a shared language in teams and shorthand for communicating more effectively about our preferences. Great facilitators also don’t tell too much but largely show – they provide plenty of examples and opportunities for participants to learn things by doing, experiencing, and figuring things out for themselves. 

One thing though emerged as the most important one when we discussed the qualities of a great facilitator with Will after the event: Above all, facilitators are just what the name suggests – people who facilitate insights for others, who create the conditions so that teams can find their own solutions to the challenges with which they grapple. In that sense, a facilitator is just like a group coach. Everything a facilitator does should be in service to the teams with whom they are working. A facilitator does not need to shine, they can almost be invisible – instead, they should allow the team to shine. 


Posted on

October 20, 2023

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