• Judy Johnson

The Heart of Facilitation

I have chosen to put the word facilitation on my business card. I avoided the word consultant. I left aside the title of coach. I did not identify the Master or bachelor’s degree. I simply put Facilitation. This article is an attempt to explain why.

It is a lovely word and a lovely vocation. I have never seen it as a job although it has required work. It has required work on myself for example, work to understand, work to stay silent and listen beyond my own thoughts. It is the noblest calling I can think of because it helps others move towards their destination. Therefore, the degrees, the titles are not the point. It is about the process.


This is sometimes misunderstood. So, I thought I would try to explain what it means to me. After 35 years of facilitating, this is a reflection on what is facilitation. Join me.


What is Facilitation?

In French, facile means “easy”. The job of the facilitator is to make something easier.


Make what easier? To make the work of the group or the individual easier.

This means understanding what the ‘work’ or purpose of the person or group is.


How can something be made easier? With a process that enables movement in positive, constructive direction.


WHAT does a facilitator facilitate?

The group? The agenda?


A good facilitator is facilitating a PROCESS of involving all towards a common goal. A process is like an invisible pathway - a pilgrimage towards a destination. When you can see the path, you become a wise guide on the side to others who are moving towards their destination. Generally, there are 5 key processes that require wise, agile and insightful facilitation. They are the learning process, team development process, problem solving process, decision-making process, and conflict resolution process. These processes underpin many of the other activities, such as planning, that a group will join together for.


The following aspects are a description of the attitude and approach I have used when in facilitation.


The Heart of the Group

At the heart of a group is the deep desire to work in harmony. Not everyone can see this deep desire. In facilitation:

• The Facilitator is the vision-keeper of this desire.

• The Facilitator can unlock this desire in the group.

• The Facilitator can see who, in the group, is also a vision-keeper and elevate them for others to see.

• The Facilitator can help a group rise to this vision.

• The Facilitator can demonstrate the keys to harmony through the wise use of humour, warmth, sweetness, honesty, courage, insight, and humility.

• The Facilitator can help group members learn the skills of working cooperatively.

• The Facilitator understands this deep desire for harmony and protects the innocence of this desire while transforming the energy that threatens to destroy this innocence.

• The Facilitator is a wise warrior, a defender of the weak. The Facilitator confronts negativity whilst protecting the one who brings it.


The Heart of a Good Plan

• Don’t plan too far ahead but be prepared for anything.

• A good plan is a process that seeks balance – of fun and work, of giving and receiving, of creating the new and destroying obstacles, of head and heart, of silence and noise, of action and interaction.

• A good plan is a process based on an understanding of what matters to people in the group.

• A good plan knows its limits…and respects the limits of the group…but tugs just a little, knowing that limits like to be challenged.

• A good plan fits a day.

• A good plan fits a mood.

• A good plan changes a mood.

• A good plan is unique to everyone but encompasses us all.

• A good plan gets to the heart of the matter.

• A good plan begins well and ends with closure.

• A good process is a facilitator’s best friend.


The Heart of the Facilitator

• The heart of the facilitator is the conscience.

• The conscience keeps track of everything. It stores and remembers all actions performed; the good, the elevated, the harmful, the hurtful, the kind, the ordinary…

• The conscience “bites” us when we don’t act in accordance with what is right.

• To “listen to your heart” means to let your conscience be your guide – to do what you know is right.

A facilitator remains aware of his/her conscience and uses it as a guide. Silent reflection, going inward and listening to the conscience (even while on your feet in front of a group), allows the facilitator to see his/her own experience in the context of the group’s aim and use it to bring benefit for the group.

• The heart of a facilitator is the commitment to act in accordance with one’s own self-respect, to offer respect to each member of the group, and to create an atmosphere of respect and regard for the group to grow within.


The Heart of the Matter

• At the heart of great expansion lies the seed – the essence.

• The one who sees the seed, holds the key to unlock the mystery of confusion in a group.

• Clarity is the first thing lost in the confusion created by personal interactions, noise, problem-solving.

• The essence is the heart of the matter.

• The facilitator’s job is to help uncover the essence of the matter. The group’s job is to add expansion. The dance begins.

• Expansion is fascinating.

• Essence is breathtaking.

• A clean process and a clean heart (the intention to see the essence) are the facilitator’s best friends.

• Everyone in the group wants clarity.

• Each person can see the essence according to his/her ability and according to his/her role.

• The facilitator understands this and respects the drama that unfolds in the group but never gets lost in sub-plots.


The Heart of a Helpful Strategy

• Everything we do in facilitation is about moving the consciousness of people.

• We attempt to discern which part of their thinking, feeling, attitude, awareness needs strengthening, redirecting and re-awakening.

• We make the effort to “see” what is going on and articulate it clearly with a suggested strategy for movement forward.

• We attempt to help others understand and re-contextualize the problem.

• When someone (or a group) is stuck in an unproductive or limited way of seeing something, the intellect sees the “issue” as the problem, when in fact the problem lies in the individual and collective perception of and approach to the issue

• A good strategy is built on an understanding of what is topping forward movement at this time


Meditation brought a deeper level of insight into the facilitation process for me as I began to understand more about the inner workings of the individual in a group setting. These elements have informed much of my facilitation work in the past twenty years helping me engage each aspect of the inner ‘being’ in the process.


Activate the Intellect – Sometimes meaning is lost for individuals in a group context. The discerning, meaning-making part of us needs to make sense of things at a deeper level in order to find new ground to solve problems. Facilitation can help individuals use new meaning constructively and appreciatively, so when old habits arise (individual or group), the work of meaning-making, done with positivity, will have the power to override the old habit. This means seeing through patterns and discerning more meaningful approaches based on a purpose greater than program, profit or product.


Open the Mind – The mind needs to be engaged in creating pictures, imagining a different outcome or envisioning an ideal future. When the mind is engaged in creation it can move forward. Sometimes an alternative cannot be seen, and no amount of discussion will open a new view. Imagining, creating or envisioning an alternative allows the mind to open to new possibilities.


Create New Memories – Old patterns sometimes create negative, disheartened, stuck energy making it difficult for a group to move on, no matter how much conversation, discussion, analysis they may have. Conversation will be distorted by the projections from a mind clouded with negativity. Creating new, positive experiences can lift a group beyond their patterns of thinking and being together. The new vantage point allows them to see new options. With new memories, feelings shift, and people become more optimistic and ready to find new possibilities. This helps build the muscle of appreciation to use these feelings to shift perspective and to see things differently.


The heart of good facilitation mirrors and reflects the most elevated aspirations of the group, bringing them to life and making them concrete.


Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed this reflection on facilitation. What does it mean to you?


Judy Johnson has been active in the field of experiential learning and organizational effectiveness for 35 years, consulting with government, private and community-based organizations worldwide. She is known for her depth of insight, enthusiasm, creativity and

clarity. She is the author of several books including a teen novel.

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