Facilitation: A leadership practice for the world today
Now more than ever, leaders need the skills to facilitate difficult conversations that make ourselves and others more closely examine our roles in the spaces around us. We must ask ourselves: How do we grow as leaders to become aware of our blindspots? And for those of us who are white and privileged, how are unintentionally being complicit under systems oppressing Black people? And how do we use this awareness to facilitate the conditions needed to confront such systems, promote healing and allow ourselves and others to grow? Over the next few months, UFacilitate will be starting a new series examining the intersection of facilitation and leadership—and how we can harness this relationship to promote healing and growth.
Facilitation leads to wasted time and ultimately, wasted dollars. People are still losing time and money due to poorly facilitated meetings. For example, Doodle’s 2019 State of Meetings report found that over two thirds of professionals lose time every week due to unnecessary meetings, which are caused by poor organization. Last year, wasted meeting time cost the U.S. economy alone over $500 billion, according to Doodle’s report.
However, this isn’t the biggest cost. Failure to meaningfully connect as a group goes beyond agendas and logistics—it also disrupts the culture and inclusiveness of an organization. When we fail to facilitate inclusive, engaging and meaningful events, we lose not only time and money, but also human connection and trust. Furthermore, we inadvertently reinforce elements of systematic racism and all the other “isms” embedded in our everyday culture.
The key to making any event or activity worthwhile and meaningful is to design an experience that takes into account those specific challenges and intently work with them to maximize engagement, inclusion and equity. This means understanding your audience well enough to help them Collaborate, Connect and Co-create (3Cs) on a personal, spiritual and intellectual level. These 3Cs are the building blocks for any successful facilitation amid our constantly changing 21st century realities. And most importantly, they allow us to work together to dismantle and transform the systems, institutions and structural barriers oppressing our Black brothers and sisters and reinforcing the “delusion of white supremacy”.
For the past 10 years I have put these 3Cs into practice, designing and facilitating hundreds of activities that make a process or action easier, memorable and more inclusive. These activities ranged from multi-phased, in-person gatherings with high level decision makers at places like the Inter-American Development Bank, the Pan-American Health Organization and the Organization of American States (e.g. innovation workshop improving education in Latin America and the Caribbean at the Inter-American Development Bank Regional Policy Dialogue on Education), to punctual virtual sessions with groups like Agora Partnerships or Open Gov Hub.
The more I facilitated group activities, the more I realized how much people enjoy experiencing the 3Cs and view it as a necessary way to connect with each other and build trust at a human level. According to Patrick Lencioni, author of The Advantage, trust creates healthy and creative conflict, which forms the foundation of successful, healthy organizations. Given the recent events in the world around us, we need creative conflict as a means to bring more voices, perspectives and stories to the table and channel them into creating more just and equitable systems and working towards a more permanent culture of humanity, equity and accountability.
Despite this, I’ve also seen and heard leaders struggling to achieve Collaboration, Connection and Co-creation by themselves, whether in relation to their teams, their partners, or the communities they serve. This struggle is not for lack of options. Leaders have all the resources at their fingertips to do a better job at engaging an audience. They could
A. Hire an amazing facilitator to do a session on their behalf or,
B. Design a session by themselves using open source information about facilitation techniques (e.g. Liberating Structures), online interactive tools (e.g. Zoom), or by following good examples they’ve experienced in meetings, conferences, and retreats.
However, both A and B present limitations. For A, the problem is that there are not enough facilitators to help everyone. And even if there were, external facilitation bears a cost, which not everyone can afford, and virtually nobody can afford on an ongoing basis. Lastly, finding and connecting with skilled and experienced facilitators can be difficult since they are often found through word of mouth, which significantly limits an organization’s options for facilitators and diverse perspectives that are needed to tackle diverse problems.
The issue with B is twofold. First, busy leaders will not likely have the time to discover and consume the right content (no time to go on another Youtube vortex) to learn how to facilitate a particular method or approach. In the words of Paula Morris, director of The Resilience Initiative, who has worked in and with nonprofit organizations for many years: “Bandwidth is always a challenge for nonprofit leaders. We have limited time in the short term to spend on the very resources and opportunities that could be helpful in the long-term. Getting the right support in the right dosage at the right time is crucial but it is hard to do."
More importantly, information alone doesn’t make you a great facilitator. Facilitation is more than making a process easier by following good advice. It is an art, science, and technique. It is the HOW of Leadership—of dismantling the oppressive systems that hinder connection and trust, and creating the conditions needed for greater inclusivity and structural, cultural change. To master facilitation, leaders need to practice it so they can find a style that suits them, and build the confidence to bring it to life over and over again.
As a facilitator I have been asked to help many organizations address B. And I have gladly done so by coaching them through their own events. Therefore, I realized that A (demand-supply gap) and B (practice gap) do not have to be problems separately addressed. Instead, by combining the incredible talent of experienced facilitators with people’s need for practice, we can make skillful, transformative facilitation accessible to any leader around the world. I founded UFacilitate on that belief, and with the hope that more 21st century leaders can develop the practice to engage groups in a way that drives Collaboration, Connection and Co-creation—and in turn, trust, inclusivity and Collective Healing.
We hope you join us and a growing community of leaders in this path towards #21stCenturyLeadership.
How do you lead in these times of pain and hurting? We’d love to hear from you.