Facilitate don’t participate

Over the last few years, ever since I first published this article, people have asked me over and over again to write a translation of it in English. Better late than never! As I was preparing for my summer holiday break I thought I’d republish and translate some articles from before. Here’s a first translated article about a golden rule that I hold dear in my work and that is a guiding principle for all of us at Minkowski: when you facilitate you don’t participate.

From developing strategy to facilitating strategy

It is one of the more important changes that organizations want to learn how to master themselves. If strategy and vision can no longer be set in stone, because the world is changing continuously, then how do you make sure your organization can adapt continuously as well? As a facilitator I can design an intervention to get a company on the right trajectory again, but when companies truly want to become future proof they have to be able to do it themselves. Then everyone inside the organization should be able to make an intervention to course correct.

Facilitation as a basic skill for everyone

Years ago I was hired by a bank in Zürich and they understood perfectly well that their own people should be able to facilitate sessions. That way, they reasoned, they could tap into the collective wisdom and insights of their own people. The answer to the question on how to fundamentally transform can more often be found inside an organization than outside. Because that is where the change should occur: outside consultants can never be as impactful to change a culture as inside employees can. Facilitation is slowly becoming a basic skill that every employee should be trained in (and more companies are in fact training their employees for this)

Learn how to ask questions instead of answering them

So, what am I going to teach the employees of the bank in Zürich? One of the most important things I’m going to tell them is that they are facilitators during the break-outs that they will run themselves. That may sound like an open door, but it is a fundamental insight to facilitate a session well: when you facilitate you don’t participate! Most often when employees organize a brainstorming session inside their company they participate just as much as they try to facilitate. Which is a very natural phenomenon: they want their voices to be heard as well. But as soon as you blur those two roles, you loose all the control to lead the session to a valuable outcome, because you loose the authority to intervene. Facilitation for that matter is a very humble role: you are a servant to the process and you are only serving it well, when you let go of your own ‘agenda’. Simply put: as a facilitator you never give the answers, but you always pose the questions (so that the others can formulate the answers and work together to a shared outcome).

When the employees in Zürich understand that, the chance of success increases dramatically.