Process facilitators get this question all the time.
Despite the fact that there are thousands of us around the world and an international association that sets professional standards and defines the core values for our work, most people are confused by the term “facilitator.”
In Holland, I am told that if you do a Google search for “facilitator,” the results show people who do facilities management.
In other places a “facilitator” is the one who pays the bribes needed to get things done.
More frequently, “facilitator” and “trainer” are used interchangeably. But there is a meaningful difference between those who facilitate learning (i.e., trainers) and those who facilitate group decision-making processes. In a nutshell, trainers are content experts; they teach something. Process facilitators create opportunities for group members to interact productively with each other. The group is the content expert. The facilitator is the guide.
IIFAC-trained facilitators are consultants (internal or external) who use their understanding of group dynamics to design processes that can help get a group from here to there.
Their context is usually meetings, large or small, formal or informal, in which the business of the group is discussed and decisions taken.
Sometimes “our” facilitators plan and lead forums or workshops where participants exchange ideas, develop options or explore solutions to a shared problem or opportunity.
Wait! Doesn´t the group´s leadership handle meetings, forums and workshops? What do they need a facilitator for?
The best leaders tend to have good facilitation skills. They use them to align the troops and keep them pulling in the same direction. Their meetings are focused and productive. They know how to listen, elicit opinions and support creativity.
Unfortunately, many people in leadership roles have no idea about how to plan a simple agenda, much less how to deal with diversity, conflict and the complex reality in which their organizations function.
Facilitation is a leadership skill.
We teach it in our International Certificate Program in Professional Facilitation.
It takes three face-to-face modules, a couple of teleconferences and a lot of case studies, exercises and some outside reading to get the point across, but by the end of the program, our participants are ready to lead in a new way.
Our next series of courses begin in April in Bogotá, Colombia and Cuernavaca, Mexico.