The Facilitative Manager

Most of us have experience of workshop facilitation, either as a participant or as the workshop leader.  Equally we have all witnessed good and less-than-good facilitators!  But have you ever considered what the skills of the best facilitators can tell us about good management practice?

Really good facilitators draw out alternative perspectives from participants so the whole team gains a broader or deeper understanding of the topic or issue.  They do this by encouraging a diversity of opinion, and that sometimes means creating space for disharmony, or encouraging contest. 

Another way to encourage diversity of opinion is to intentionally create the conditions for creativity, perhaps through the type of task selected, or the tools provided, or maybe changing the environment, the timeframe or the team composition.  Have you ever experienced a time when team members were unwilling to offer their perspective on an issue, and consequently, the issue could simply not be resolved?

Top class facilitators strive to harness differences in skills, knowledge and capabilities of participants.  Through a combination of research (in preparation), and probing questions (on the day), good facilitators tap into distinct life experiences so that novel ideas can be uncovered and group think can be avoided.  This awareness of differences in skills then allows good facilitators to mix up work teams and vary the exercises or roles they allocate, meaning participants are more likely to be challenged and engaged in the task at hand.  In a team context, you may find this may save your people from stagnation!

Have you ever noticed how the best facilitators have conquered (most of the time!) the demon of ego?  When a facilitator (or even a manager) recognises that their value can lie in allowing the group to discover the answer, or determine the approach, the potential of the team can be released.

A strong facilitator will also do a great job of listening paying attention to the dynamic and energy of the team and adjusting the focus to suit.  A skilled facilitator will be attuned to the feedback from the team on how they (as the workshop leader) are impacting the experience of the team.  You may agree that being aware of your own impact on others is a critical skill of both facilitators and managers.

I have a view that if each of these skills are applied in your role as a manager, then you will have set in place the foundations for a dynamic, engaging environment.   By demonstrating your trust in the team, and valuing their unique experiences, styles and skills, then you create space for them to generate solutions to problems solutions they will stand by and build their comfort with ambiguity and complexity.


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