Jillian Wagenheim, Founder & Principal, Sertus Consulting
Farrah Azizi, Private Philanthropy Advisor, Give Great Group
“To the wary and the passionate” is the opening dedication of the July 2018 selection of the 21/64 National Book Club, Unlocking the Magic of Facilitation, by Sam Killermann and Meg Bolger – an apropos welcome to facilitators both new to the field and those looking for further growth and insight. While no book can encompass the full experience, this brief but concise read emphasizes the nuances of facilitation.
Small word choices for example, such as conjunctions like ‘and’ or ‘but’, can act to welcome or distance participants. Despite that, nothing ventured nothing gained, as the saying goes. With this in mind, the authors share 11 key concepts that they have found to be constructive for facilitations. The book is framed to lead readers through a thoughtful guiding of the evergreen learnings and universal concepts of the author’s ‘train the trainer’ experiences. A few of these include emphasis of building the authenticity of the facilitator, being comfortable with silence, and handling hostile participants.
Asking questions with intentionality and purpose resonated with the participants of the Book Club in our discussion. The authors remind readers that facilitation is not about fixing participants problems but that it is important to maintain the guiding star of why a group has come together, as one Book Club participant aptly said. Facilitators must be mindful of what they are trying to accomplish and what conversations they might dive into that is in service of the work. Similarly, they must be conscientious of what elements in a group may be disruptive to that process; hostility to the facilitator or hostitly within the group for example should be handled differently to different ends.
Our discussion yielded best practices from amongst the group’s lived experience such as utilizing breaks, shifting seats to change the physical energy in the room, giving participants the opportunity to be teachers themselves, and the selective use of humor to diffuse situations. Even the most senior facilitators described that ongoing practice and taking chances are key to maintaining and refining one’s facilitation skills. But more than anything, one must facilitate from their authentic self to gain the trust of the group’s participants and create the space they need to work through to reach the group’s shared goals.
The book opens with a Margaret Atwood quote, “thrown over a precipice, you fall or else you fly.” While no facilitator wants to be fearful of a fall, this book serves to lift those looking for the key concepts that lead to constructive and proven facilitation techniques.