Facilitation or training? Trainer or facilitator? The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, although they shouldn’t be. As the dictionary reminds us, a trainer is ‘someone who trains people’ whereas a facilitator is there to ‘make an action or process easy or easier’.

So what does this mean in practice?

A trainer starts from their own knowledge, whereas the facilitator starts from the group’s knowledge. Ideally, facilitators should be process leaders only – they have no decision-making authority and nor should they contribute to the substance of the discussion. To be effective as a facilitator, the role should therefore be a neutral one. There may be no right answer, but the skill is in guiding the group to their preferred outcome.

Often, managers ‘facilitate’ workshops within their team but cannot remain truly neutral as the outcome will affect them in some way. This can find them leading the conversation, consciously or sub-consciously, to a preferred outcome. A facilitator’s role can be compared to that of a football referee. It is often said that the best referees are the ones who have rarely been heard and have allowed the game to flow. A facilitator can be successful by just being an enabler. A facilitator does not have to be heard the most or seen the most to be successful.

The majority of facilitators are subject knowledge specialists who have the skills to transfer that knowledge through a range of activities that are best suited to the participants. They will tend to have an interactive style, mingling with the participants, having some 1:1 discussions along the way, and seeing themselves as part of that group.

This is very much our approach and it is something about which Cyrus Cooper, our Managing Director, is quite passionate, having written about it in his book, Brilliant Workshops.

So, when is facilitation appropriate? Whenever the answer is in the room but it needs someone impartial to help draw it out. If a team has issues it needs to discuss, then an external facilitator can bring experience and impartiality to help you get what you want out of the day without the egos or the passions in the room getting in the way. If the Board needs to spend a day thinking about strategy then we have facilitators experienced in that who can help. If a team is going through a restructuring, then an external facilitator can help take them from vision and mission through roles and responsibilities to action plans in a much more focused way than a member of the organisation could do.

Not sure? If you’d like to talk through whether one of our team could add some value, help make something happen, then please just give us a call on 01582 714280 for a no-obligation discussion. We’d be more than happy to talk it through with you.