Step 3: Facilitate Learning
“This is why, in a nutshell, advice is overrated. I can tell you something, and it’s got a limited chance of making its way into your brain’s hippocampus, the region that encodes memory. If I can ask you a question and you generate the answer yourself, the odds increase substantially.”
― Michael Bungay Stanier, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever
Facilitating a conversation is a highly technical skill. For some reason, I thought I could “facilitate” learning with no advanced training in the field. I worked with an award-winning facilitator once I realized my shortcomings. She candidly told me that many people think they facilitate conversations or adult learning but that’s not what they actually do - they just give advice.
Facilitation is the art of creating environments and processes that make learning accessible and personalized. There is no sage on the stage in the room or in the conversation. This isn’t to say there isn’t a place for knowledge transfer. It’s just going to look different as you facilitate the learning instead of deliver the learning.
Facilitating is asking the right questions in a safe environment with the appropriate experiential methods so “ah-ha” moments happen naturally. If you manage to “say less and ask more,” as Michael Bungay Stanier suggests in his book The Coaching Habit, real change can happen.
Facilitation involves asking questions that cause people to reflect on themselves or an experience. Giving them advice on what they should be doing in the workplace or classroom isn’t.
Here are a few places to start your journey with facilitating learning.
Invite them to design their learning: Use process tools such as Open Space Technology. Adults need a say in what they are learning and when they are learning it. This process tool allows for choice and empowers people to form groups by common interests.
Be the Guardian–don’t let the gorilla in the room take over. A skilled facilitator knows how to invite all voices into a conversation. Whether it is a gorilla in the room that needs to be silenced or a pessimist that needs to be held accountable, a facilitator needs to guard the process, keep the environment safe, and be inclusive of all voices. Guard the process by setting clear intentions/goals and have a parking lot ready to place topics or conversations on hold that don’t align with the topic at hand.
Invite their knowledge without judgment: Facilitating a learning experience means the space should be safe for the participants. The words a facilitator uses will set the culture for the group. Therefore, it is important to withhold judgmental language. There are multiple ways to do this, but if you are starting out, give the Clean Language approach a shot. You will be surprised how difficult it is to clean up your language. Practice this with friends and family to get more comfortable using it.
Be intentional about each aspect of the learning experience. One method we really like is the HRDQ model for experiential design. It allows a facilitator to focus time and attention where the participants need it. If you are new to facilitating or design, it provides a framework for clarity. Once you become more skilled, it will seem more natural and you can modify it as needed.
The purpose of these articles is to offer support. Our goal is to serve those that are in the shoes we once were. Reach out to us with any and all questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. No gimmicks. It’s free.
Ross Herdina, Co-Founder, Agile Ideas Leadership.