Facilitation: the art of giving up control in a controlled way

Facilitation is about giving up control in a controlled way

Anne is sitting at her desk wondering about this morning's meeting. As usual she had a weekly update meeting with her project team. She was well prepared. Starting with an update of all team members, diving into some issues and closing with a couple of actions to follow up. She left he meeting feeling uplifted. The deadline issue Pete had for ages, was finally solved and he promised to deliver next week.
Two hours later she passed the coffee corner and saw Pete and Alice in a serious conversation. She could not help overhearing Pete and Alice discussing this mornings meeting. Pete rose his voice "I will never be able to deliver next week, what does she think!"
Anne could not believe this, what happened? How could her perception of this mornings meeting be so different from Pete’s and Alice's?
Looking back at her screen her eyes fell on an e-mail that triggered her before… a one day training on “facilitation skills”. Could it help her?
Thinking back at this mornings meeting Anne realized that she had been simply stating the solution for the deadline issue, looking at Pete to receive a confirmation. She knew she had proposed the best solution. She did not invite him to share his thoughts. She remembers having seen Alice's surprised face, but she was scared to give it some attention or share with the group what the effect was on her (she feared that again no solution would be found).
And to be honest, she thinks of Alice as a very defensive person and did not want to offer her the opportunity to open up the discussion again. A confrontation would have taken up all the time. After all Pete nodded “yes”. Anne did not want to open up a discussion that might have led to a conflict. Or eventually let them undermine her ability to lead the meeting.

Now she realizes that she made a lot of assumptions. And that in the end she blocked the interaction during the meeting and she contributed to the fact the team did not put the decision into action. Instead of moving the project forward, even more time was lost, resulting in a decision that is not implemented, Pete and Alice getting even more stressed and demotivated, and she feeling uncomfortable with the whole situation.

She could learn from this.

She decided to go for the facilitation workshop.

During the workshop she learned how to be more curious and courageous to test her own observations and assumptions. She noticed how stating her own observations helped others in stating theirs. She was often surprised by the simplicity of reasoning and noticed how her own fears blocked her and her team in finding powerful solutions.
So the next meeting she asked the team members if they recognized the situation she described, she shared that she felt it as a very urgent matter and asked if they saw it also. If not, she was curious and invited further sharing, not throwing her own conclusion on the table.
She invited the team members to share what they need to solve the issue. And went for their ideas. She checked if they all agreed and she even dared to speek up when she doubted.
After some time she felt energy during the meetings, her team members solved issues themselves, were committed and enthusiastic when they took on the ownership to put a decision into practice.

How basic facilitation skills can help to have better meetings

Often facilitation is seen as an external party who helps to improve how you and your team work together, to achieve better results. For strategic workshops, innovation bootcamps, team coaching, an content neutral third party is invited to guide the group and to improve performance of the team. What if the skills a facilitator uses could help you to improve your meetings and your collaboration with colleagues and team members?

When a group works together there is a need for balance between the job that needs to be done , the interaction between each other, the individual needs and the expectations of “the outside world” (your client, your competitor, your boss… ).
Facilitation skills help you to take an “observer” perspective and help you to see how the different angles are interrelated.

Improving your facilitation skills is about developing a sense of listening and tuning in. Often we are too much sucked in the reality to notice small signs of resistance, or we only hear and see what we want to hear.
It is about letting go of the tendency to know better, shown in thoughts like: “I understand the situation, you don’t”, “I’m right, your are wrong”, “I will win this one”.

Or as Johannes Schmidt describes it : we need to take ourselves more seriously and learn to listen, watch, observe and sense.


When I teach facilitation skills I offer tools and technicques and lots of best practices, but most of all I invite you to observe your own facilitation mindset and to ecourage you to trust it and to use it.

A facilitation skills workshop

In March, during the BA&Beyond conference in Brussels I run a facilitation skills workshop. The next day, during the conference, you will be able to use your new skills during the immersive workshops.
More information:

Did this story make you curious?

Contact info

+32498177891
karen@jungo.be