If you have participated in  facilitated sessions you will know that some facilitators are more successful than others.  But what distinguishes the good facilitators from the average?  Chemistry, personal style, trust, background, knowledge, credentials all seem to play a part.  Here is a list I have in a manual I created for a facilitation course.  I have taken out all of the detail as I felt the list makes thought-provoking reading.
















The photo comes from the Leonard Bernstein website , from his address to the American Symphony Orchestra League, 18 June 1980.  An intriguing read.  The arresting passage for me was this:

“A strange thing happens when a conductor transmogrifies himself into a composer – at least, to me. There is a drastic change of persona; the public figure becomes a very private person. There are few if any public appearances – this being one of the few; there is a lot of solitude, and deep inner searching. First there is a transitional period in which one tries to clear the mind of everybody else’s notes – Beethoven’s, Mahler’s, Stravinsky’s, Druckman’s – all those notes one has been studying and conducting and hearing day in, day out; then follows that period of agony and ecstasy, searching for and finding one’s own notes. This is what I have been doing; I hardly ever go out, socially or professionally; I have attended very few concerts; I have become a reclusive introvert. It is, in short, a very odd time for me to be making this speech.”

So now Leonard Bernstein has stolen my thunder.  Here is a list of attributes of a facilitator you may wish to consider.
A good facilitator:

  • Enjoys working with people.
  • Has a warm, comfortable and welcoming manner.
  • Establishes clear boundaries.
  • Listens  (you would think hey?).
  • Is patient, compassionate and generous.
  • Thinks on their feet, with clarity and logic yet acts on intuition.
  • Is articulate and expressive being able to summarise and instantiate.
  • Is neutral, detached and objective, caring about both sides of a discussion.
  • Shows congruence.
  • Is resilient, with a sense of humour that is appropriate.
  • Is assertive (not submissive or aggressive), exhibiting self-confidence and leadership.
  • Is humble, with a flexible ego, able to embrace their confusion and offer it to the group.
  • Is keen to develop themselves as a person.
  • Has a business orientation.

The conductor metaphor is apt for facilitation.  A common perception of the best facilitator as wild extrovert may be illustrated by pictures like this:

This is Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Venezuelan Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra.  The photo is from the blog ‘books to the ceiling‘ from a post about these two conductors.

However in my best ever work as a facilitator, I have been able to recede.  Sometimes I am able to sit at the back of the room while the group deliberates, different people taking turns to lead the discourse.

I like  the description J Richard Hackman gives of Russian conductor Yuri Temirkanov conducting a Mahler symphony.  This is the sort of work that brings on wild gymnastics from the podium.  But Temirkanov cued the musicians to begin, then his hands went to his sides.  He listened.  Where necessary he provided guidance with his eyes or his body, using his hands to guide transitions.  He managed from the margin while the orchestra created magic.