What is facilitation, anyway?

I stumbled across a fantastic 4-minute video today that was titled: What Do Facilitators Do? It was simple, brief, but I thought very robust. In a nutshell, the video frames facilitators’ work as having three roles. First, the facilitator is an architect, how develops a plan for the meeting that is based on good principles and that will hold up to stressors and, perhaps unexpected ones. Second, the facilitator is a pilot, who makes sure the vehicle is in order (room, staff, equipment, etc.) then takes command of the process with a clear eye toward landing the plane at the intended destination. Finally, a facilitator is a tour guide, who recognizes positive as well as potentially undermining shifts in the group (for examples, disagreements, doubts, confusion) and helps encourage the group to maintain its own belief it its eventual success. “Brilliant!”  I first thought and still do. I even tweeted it so many times that my account was temporarily suspended. The metaphor is helping me rethink and potential reframe my ongoing examination of what audience polling does. Perhaps one value is that because it involves a technological interface that must be established, one subtle value of the keypads is that they force the facilitator to be more rigorous about his/her planning. Yes, you can make up questions on the fly - and often these add the most value - but most of your questions will be prepared beforehand. You must have done some thinking about who the audience is, where you and they want to go, and what will be the likely impact of asking questions at particular time. Spontaneity yes….but you can’t simply wing it. This goes back to what I was thinkging a few weeks ago about the way that the technology is an extra nudge to facilitators to display the discipline we need to have anyway.

The guide metaphor made me think of the way that polling allows a level of clarity of check in during a facilitated process. A polling savvy facilitator can check in with the group about its level of satisfaction, engagement, agitation, or all matter of issues at any time. Indeed, this is the realm in which on the fly questions may be the most on point.

The pilot metaphor seems most apt with respect to closure. Polling allows me to get the participants assessment of the degree to which we actually arrived at the designation. And depending on how the polling is done, this may be done transparently. If many of us think we missed the mark, everybody knows this if a poll is done with the results displayed.

It would be great if there could be one metaphor can carry throughout this explanation. Both pilots and guides help people on journeys, but an architect builds building. But maybe if the architect is one who builds planes, it all works……