I was reading an article about internships when I ran across the phrase “facilitating while learning”. It made me think, can you facilitate a topic that you aren’t knowledgeable on?
One of a facilitator’s primary responsibilities is questioning. I can see where it would be very helpful to have some working knowledge of a topic in a facilitation. That might help ask better questions. Now I guess the opposite could be true, not knowing the topic might lead to some great questions as well.
In Michael Wilkinson’s book “The Secrets of Facilitation”, he talks about the role of the facilitator being to guide participants through the session. Facilitators aren’t’ there to share their opinion or dictate a solution. Facilitation is about using an understanding of the process and group dynamics to achieve the desired result. So I guess using his definition, it would definitely be okay to facilitate a session where you are skilled about process but not necessarily knowledgeable on the topic.
That being said, I wonder if organizations choose facilitators based upon the same criteria? Are facilitators chosen for their process skills or their subject knowledge? Is it possible that companies are setting their meetings up to fail not because they chose a facilitator but because they selected them for the wrong reason?
Maybe organizations need to add a step when they are thinking about bringing in an external facilitator. Ask the question, “How much knowledge does the facilitator need to be effective?” Not about the process. For that, they need to be exceptional. You can’t compromise there. But there might be varying degrees of knowledge regarding subject being discussed.
Facilitation skills are unique. Not every presenter, keynote speaker, or trainer has the qualifications to be an effective facilitator. Facilitators need to know process. They need to be able to make the group comfortable, manage conflict, solicit engaging conversation, and ask questions for clarity. Sometimes they need to know the industry or specific topic.
Organizations bringing in external facilitators need to set those individuals up for success by selecting them for the right reasons. Selecting a person with tremendous subject matter expertise but little process skill, will hurt the session outcomes. The key is finding a facilitator that can successfully manage the process.
Oh, and if they learn a little while facilitating a session…well, that’s okay too.
Image courtesy of Sharlyn Lauby0