Unlocking Uncertainty: Facilitation is the Key

“Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one.”

– Voltaire

We are living in uncertain times. Amid the global pandemic, threat of economic recession, brexit and escalating tensions between global powers, it can feel the future of everything is uncertain. But when was it ever certain? As a facilitator who works with teams globally I’ve been thinking about the future of facilitation, how new social distancing norms might impact the ability of people to connect on a deep level with others and what new opportunities might be created.

The future of facilitation is bright

In my travels around the world working with organisations, increasingly I hear “we have members of the team who can facilitate a bit, but we need a facilitator”. Facilitation is really starting to gain recognition as a profession, and facilitation skills are seen as a core competency for leaders, managers and anyone who works within a team. It is great for the profession that facilitation is being recognised as the complex alchemy it is rather than just asking a few questions.

I feel that previously facilitation was seen as an assumed skill, like leadership or collaboration. Now, however, it is firmly following in their footsteps with professional qualifications in facilitation becoming commonplace in organisations. Facilitation will be done by formal and informal leaders in all settings. Facilitation is a craft. You need to do it to learn it.

The increase in understanding of facilitation and the value it adds often leads to cultural changes in organisations. These changes increase the perceived value of thinking time and discussing process, which can radically change how meetings and conferences are conducted. Those in the role of facilitator also need more time to prepare so they make a positive impact, instead of just being pushed through the door and asked to facilitate.

Anywhere where people work with people, facilitation can add value. This won’t change for a long time, so the future of facilitation looks good. Every time is feels like the market is reaching saturation, need increases at an even greater rate. This is particularly true if you include the opportunities using digital tools to work with teams all over the world.

Anywhere where people work with people, facilitation can add value. This won’t change for a long time, so the future of facilitation looks good. Every time is feels like the market is reaching saturation, need increases at an even greater rate. This is particularly true if you include the opportunities using digital tools to work with teams all over the world.

Conserving our craft

One of the key challenges I have recognised in some organisations is a merging of labels for different skillsets with facilitator, coach, trainer, mentor all becoming synonymous with each other. They are not the same thing. There are transferable skills between them, but they are separate disciplines and we must recognize this to maintain professional standards and to ensure clients get what they want. Here organisations like the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) are important as they have clear guidelines on the competencies and ethics of a facilitator that help keep professional standards high.

There are also splinter groups forming as facilitation is broken down into different specialities, for example, Lego Serious Play facilitation or visual facilitation. This feels like a natural evolution of the role however it is important that they are seen as a small part of larger discipline, not as the whole. This ensures that the core ethics, competencies, and understanding of the role are maintained throughout. Otherwise, there is a danger that we could end up with a simplified ‘facilitation lite’.

If the core competencies are lost and understanding of different L+D disciplines continue to merge, it will create problems for facilitators. Bad habits could proliferate and facilitators will be asked to do things that are outside of their expertise or ethics because the client has experience of another ‘facilitator’ doing the same thing.

How will we connect when we are socially distant?

I think it will accelerate the adoption of new technologies to work with others. It feels like we’re all trying to keep up, but few of us are doing it very well. Often because the technology is not appropriate for the task and its challenges because typically the client chooses the tech, not you.

There is no one tool and I don’t believe there will be. There is no silver bullet. We’re going to have to use a whole range of tools, some of which might be expected or requested by clients. However it is important to ensure that any solutions that are used add value to the process and are not just gimmicks. I believe that for deep levels of engagement and change human interaction is irreplaceable, and always will be. As professionals we need to manage clients expectations about what’s possible with available technology, and the benefits of face to face facilitation.

Could social distance enhance our ability to connect with others? We all took face to face interaction for granted in the pre-Covid world. We’ve all learnt so much about what we can achieve while physically apart. However, we have also been made acutely aware of what we lose – the emotion, serendipity, and sense of togetherness. I hope this will help us to value the time when we are physically together more and will lead us to have fewer but more impactful face to face interactions with others.

Regardless of what happens we’ll find a way to connect to others – it is such a basic human need. As confidence grows, in time, we may all go back to way things were. We might not. Either way we’ll be ok.

Facilitation as the key

Through writing this I’ve questioned, reflected, challenged and used a whole range of facilitation skills to help myself make sense of what’s happening. If facilitation skills can help us to decipher what the future of facilitation looks like, I am sure it can and will help others make sense of what is happening now and what comes next.

It is important that we stay in touch, share ideas, actively seek and accept feedback. Then no matter what the future holds, facilitation will continue to grow and develop as a profession. I doubt we will find any absolutes: that would be absurd! But facilitation is about creating movement, not finding definitive answers. So in a time when more and more of us seem to be debating in bubbles, facilitators are more needed than ever.

By Alex Greenwood, Senior Facilitator at MTa Learning

Alex has a wide range of professional experience working as a facilitator, and coach with leading organisations around the world.

He can help you with 1-2-1 coaching that will enable you to navigate any uncertainty you’re currently experiencing at work. Get in touch to learn more or to book a free chemistry session.