Can everyone facilitate?

I was copied into an email discussion earlier this week with an underlying question of whether it’s possible to say that everyone can facilitate.

Clearly there are people for whom facilitation is a greater challenge, whether because of confidence, experience, or communication style.

Been to this meeting?

What sprung to mind for me was shared facilitation. Not having a meeting facilitator, but having a facilitated meeting. In other words not packaging up all the possible roles, responsibilities, skills and actions required to successfully facilitate a meeting and hanging them around the neck of one particular individual (like some kind of process albatross). Instead consciously sharing those things, each taking their part. But how many meetings are there where that actually happens? The albatross scenario is more common by far. And if you take that scenario as your starting point and ask can everyone facilitate I think the answer’s likely to be  “no”. And who could blame folk for not trying or for trying and failing?

When we go to a meeting we need to ask ourselves what our role is. Seems to me that we have a few choices open to us, not all of which are helpful. I’ll leave you to make that judgment:

  1. Are we going to be passive spectator and be part of the ‘audience’ or are we going to get involved and contribute?
  2. If we contribute will it be a contribution to the content of the meeting? This is common but often conditional – after all we want to get our point of view across, right?
  3. We could also contribute to the content in away that helps articulate points of view that aren’t being heard – whether asking for others’ opinions or attempting to express views not in the room.
  4. We could also contribute to process. Again this can be, and often is, conditional – we’ll offer thoughts on process whenever said process isn’t going the way that best serves our interests.
  5. And/or we could contribute unconditionally to process, that is we could share the facilitation if only for a few seconds. For some folk this comes naturally and they’re a huge blessing for any albatross wearing facilitator. For others it’s not a natural part of their meeting experience or culture, but with a little conscious work it could be.

And if we can start to move in the direction offered by this fifth option, can everyone facilitate? Well the question then becomes: can every group share facilitation well enough that everyone in the group feels supported to play their part in that facilitation? Not an albatross in sight.