The Art of Selfless Facilitation

The Art of Selfless Facilitation

Meenakshi Kapur

Meenakshi Kapur

A consultant at Vyaktitva, enjoys to works with people and organizations to bring about an impact through facilitation and OD. She also spends her time with cats and dogs who naturally find their way to her. Maybe it is her deep love for music, that makes her who she is?

“You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him discover it within himself.” – Galileo Galilei

At some point or the other, most facilitators have succeeded in creating a significant impact in their participant’s journey, which fuels them to facilitate more and more sessions.

However, in some instances, the workshops don’t render the desired result and facilitators struggle to identify the reasons. This is worsened by their inability to discern the causes – they gaze at their formula and wonder…if the same design worked there, why did it not work here?

I was no different and experienced all the above. Upon reflection of my facilitation journey and my interaction with others, I’ve unearthed these few things:

During the journey, a facilitator, takes care of two aspects – the concrete and the subtle. Normally, for the concrete part, there are things that a facilitator does both before and during the workshop like:

  • Knowing the context well so that they can use the relevant language or use the verbiage of the audience.
  • Designing and curating the workshop keeping in mind the different kinds of audience and their varied learning styles.
  • Preparing by knowing the subject well.
  • Setting up of the activities, rules etc.

While I find this concrete part usually easy to manage, there are many subtle factors, which I have worked on after a lot of reflection. Most of these are not visible to the audience or the facilitator but can have a huge bearing on the desired output of the workshop. Some of the occasions where a facilitator may falter are:

  • A facilitator sometimes gets attached to his/her own agenda and gets self-absorbed. This inhibits her/him to observe the reality as it is. What is the energy of the group? Is this what people need? Am I addressing their pain? Are people getting it? Is it going in the right direction?
  • Since the facilitator knows most of the answers, the tendency is to give it away. This inhibits the stickiness of any information or knowledge given. If these were to come in the form of self-realisations, the knowledge stays far more.
  • A facilitator sometimes misses reading between the lines when he/she does not see where the person is coming from.

While these things may seem simple, they require a facilitator to be extremely skilled, with a high order of capacity to execute dynamic work.

I realised that skills and capabilities were hygiene in this set up. For deeper impact and stickiness, I needed to work on things deep within me, so that the impact could manifest in behaviour. Here are a few things, I feel, a facilitator can emulate to march forward in the journey of impactful facilitation:

  • Be empathetic: Unless you learn to empathize, you’d fail to understand the milieu of a person, the context of their pain and problems. It helps you be non-judgmental. When you judge others, you lose the capacity to inspire and influence them. Empathy will help you put the learner at the center.
  • Be an observer and be here: If you are present in body, mind and soul only then will you be able to know whether the group is engaged or not, or when your own energy is low. Also, along with this awareness, if you are able to distance yourself and see things objectively, you will be able to accept the reality in that moment even though things do not go as per plan. This helps you emerge in the moment as per the need and not always be fixated to your plan.
  • Be fearless: To be able to break the structures of participants and get through to them, you sometimes need to challenge their assumptions. To be able to push them, you need to be aware of your own fears and manage it.
  • Ask the right questions: If we want quick realizations to happen during the workshop as against providing information, it can be done very effectively by asking questions rather than providing answer. Ask a question that leads to the answer and let the person come up with the responses on their own.
  • Display energy: Energy and passion are contagious, once you display it, it will rub off on your audience.

Apart from the above, facilitators sometime miss out to design for reflection during the program. To extract meaning out of the learning and to make it their own, reflection time is imperative. It helps them internalise and find ways and areas of application.

These learnings have helped me in a mindset change whereby the focus has shifted from self to the learner. Once I recognised it, impact and effectiveness increased manifold. It just opened out a new world of facilitation for me. 

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