Leadership through facilitation

Borrowed from @jdsimcoe on UrbanSplash

Last month I had a great refresher on facilitation, with the intention being “To explore and deepen our mind and skill in facilitation”.

It was a fab 2 days ran by The Other Potential. I’ve been researching facilitation over the last year since I’ve joined Common Good and its intrigued me. I’ve been involved in facilitation sessions previously but without really knowing what I was doing was ‘facilitation’.

What is facilitation?

At this point it might be worth me defining what I mean by facilitation. And I’m borrowing this definition from someone else ;)

“Facilitation is the art of leading people through processes towards agreed upon objectives, in a way that fosters participation, creativity and ownership from all involved”
David Sibbet

There are also some great existing models on facilitation, like this one below that we’ve adapted from the Essence of Facilitation.

In our design studio, we have meetings, workshops, team gatherings, 1–2–1s, events and all sorts of other meetings. In all of these meetings there is the need for facilitation.

As organisational structures have changed over the decades, so have typical meeting styles. Gone are the days of hierarchical structures where strict rules and measures are imposed upon employees to be the most productive through command and control. Today organisations have a culture of design and provoke experimenting where employees are empowered to be their own leaders. Organisations are ‘organisms’ constantly evolving and changing.

This means that as individuals working in these environments, facilitation becomes even more important so we don’t lose our way and end up going round in circles. At this point it’s worth me referencing something that we discussed a lot on the course:

“As facilitators we must accept uncertainty.”

Having the tools in our back pockets and being aware of process design can really help meander our way through this uncertainty to get us to where we need to be; together, collaboratively, without dictatorship. Guiding people with an ‘invisible hand.’

Understanding process design

Facilitation requires different skills in order to get the most out of a session. Some preparation work is needed before to understand potential stakeholders within a session and problems or potential areas of conflict.

During the session you have to be seriously ready for thinking on your feet, actively listening, building trust (potentially very quickly with a bunch of strangers) and sometimes intervening during a session to manage conflict. At it doesn’t end there.

A lot of work goes into organising these types of meetings in order to get the most value from the session. We’ve illustrated below some of the steps needed before, during and after a session.


We all have the potential to be great facilitators if we understand some of the basic principles around process design and there are some great models and checklists to help us out. YAY.

To get us started, here is simple model called IDOARRT.

I’ve heard of this tool before but there are so many tools out there I sometimes feel overwhelmed and am unsure which ones to use! It was a nice reminder and it made me realise how simple and effective this model is. If I remember 1 thing before planning a meeting whether it’s a 1–2–1 mentor session or a client workshop, it will be this. It’s a tool you can use to plan a session on your own before or you can actually do this at the start of a workshop.

To add to this also consider:

  • Context — Eg why is this session happening?
  • Mandate — Your mandate within the session eg what authority do you have?
  • Rooms — Which type of session you’re having eg is this a planning session or an ideation session?
  • Parameters — Eg in an ideation session, is the session about improvement or ideation, prototyping or delivery?
Image taken whilst at The Other Potential course

A final point on managing conflict

Something I find challenging (because I like everyone to be happy and getting along all of the time) is conflict. I learnt something that challenged my thinking on this after the 2 day course. I learnt that “resistance is energy and you can turn that into a positive.” Conflict is good and its expected, especially as organisations go on a transformative journey.

As facilitators we need to be able to transform problems into opportunities and we can use exercises to reveal what really is at the centre of the conflict. Asking different types of open, instead of closed questions is a good way of doing this.

In summary

Moving forwards I’m going to be much more mindful of the time I spend with people, making sure I’ve thought about purpose, outcomes, agenda, roles, rules and time. I’ll try out different tools to engage and drive sessions in the right direction. This is what leadership is all about at Common Good, working towards a common goal collaboratively but with direction. I’ll apply this whether that’s with a client or an internal mentoring session.

P.S The course was in Copenhagen, lets all move to Copenhagen, its a beautiful city…