Disciplined Agile

Facilitation: Attitudes, Attributes, and Service

Effective facilitation begins with who you are, how you think, and how you see yourself. It requires a degree of introspection and personal growth. This article offers insight into the attitudes and attributes of good facilitators and how to view facilitation as a service, distinct from training and presenting.

Attitudes for Facilitators and Instructors

Facilitation and instruction require some important attitudes. This list is focused on instructors but relates to facilitators as well.

  • You do not have to be right all the time to be credible. Credibility actually comes from genuine listening.
  • You gain respect not by demanding it, nor by demonstrating prowess; you gain respect by giving it.
  • Every reasoning person who believes a thing is in some way correct. Find that first.
  • When challenged, always start by backing up and finding agreement. It’s always there.
  • Ask questions they can probably answer. Minimize trick questions and gotcha’s.
  • Never put a student under pressure, never put them on the spot.
  • Never make a student wrong or feel that they have “lost.” You win only if they win. If you defeat them, you’ve failed.
  • Teaching is leading, and vice-versa.
  • “A good leader does not get people to do good work. A good leader develops people through work.” (Peter Drucker)
  • You’re not there to give them answers, you’re there to strength their ability to find the answers, in their own way, without you.

Attributes of a Facilitator

Facilitators brings everything they have to the session: their knowledge, their skills and themselves. Don't discount any of this. Remember to use all of your assets throughout the session!

A good facilitator must be able to:

  • Think logically.
  • Exercise patience.
  • Listen actively.
  • Summarize accurately and quickly.
  • Lead.
  • Observe.
  • Have a positive attitude.

Facilitators Are Leaders

Facilitators serve the sponsor of the meeting as well as the session participants. The agenda reflects the goals and the approach that the facilitator will use to achieve those goals. It is a role that is both leader and servant. Here are important aspects of leadership for facilitators:

  • Know your audience and know the goals for the session.
  • Be flexible with time and people, but not subject matter.
  • Treat remote participants as equal to those in the room.
  • Draw people into the conversation without embarrassing them.
  • Use body language and presence properly.
  • Anticipate potential questions, answers and reactions.
  • Keep your sense of humor.
  • Exercise control of yourself and of the session.
    • Don't allow excess chit chat.
    • Don't let audience members take over.
    • Don't let technical people overwhelm the group with too much detail.
    • Don't allow rude, mean, destructive behavior.
    • Don't be sarcastic.
    • Don't be afraid of conflict.

Facilitators Are Always Growing in Knowledge and Skills

Facilitation requires knowledge and skills. Facilitators can always be developing their competencies. Here are some areas of knowledge to develop:

  • adult learning principles
  • organizational, job, and individual performance indicators
  • instructional design and development
  • diversity awareness as it relates to the implications of participants and learning
  • methods and tactics to get organizational buy-in and support
  • group dynamics
  • tactics for coaching and feedback
  • the goals, strategies, and challenges of the organization

Here are skills to develop:

  • operating equipment in the room
  • writing on flipcharts: preparing standard charts and recording participants’ comments in a way that keeps conversation going
  • communicating verbally to present information
  • communicating nonverbally: body positioning, gestures, facial expressions
  • summarizing and paraphrasing participant input
  • providing coaching and feedback
  • listening actively and effectively
  • planning learning activities
  • thinking in terms of systems to see interrelationships among participants’ input by recognizing the connecting patterns

Facilitation as a Service

Facilitation is a service that someone (a facilitator) offers to a group:

  • To help the group improve their effectiveness
  • To provide an open forum to constructively manage conflict
  • To provide a safe environment to identify and address issues as a group
  • To assists with the decision-making process
  • To learn from experience 
  • To examine group processes for the purpose of improvement and addressing impediments

Being a facilitator means making sure that all of the important points are brought out, giving everyone a chance to contribute and participate, and checking that everything is going well for the participants. In other words, being a facilitator means making learning happen. It also means that you don’t have to be the one doing all of the talking—as a matter of fact, the more you create opportunity for the participants to do the talking, the more they will make your points for you, and the more engaged they will be.

Facilitation is different from training and presenting as illustrated in the following table. 




Here to learn something

Here to receive something

Here to work towards a joint outcome

Learning-based objectives

Communications-based objectives 

Deliverable/outcome-based objectives

Instructor and team ask questions to clarify and/or learn

Presenter answers questions to clarify and/or inform

Facilitator develops and leads the process to achieve the outcome

Visual aids used to illustrate learning

Visual aids used to present

Visual aids used to remind participants of the process

Participants learn from others' experiences

Participants are mostly passive

Participants are active and contributing