What is workshop facilitation and why would you need a workshop facilitator

What is workshop facilitation and why would you need a workshop facilitator?

To facilitate means to make something easier or smoother.

The term is well described by these synonyms:

  • Enable
  • Assist
  • Support
  • Help
  • Speed up
  • Accelerate
  • Advance
  • Simplify

But that’s too broad a definition, since it covers (to name a few):

  • Training facilitation
  • Business facilitation
  • Social facilitation
  • Organisation development facilitation
  • Turnkey facilitation (a concept noted on a tender website)
  • Project facilitation
  • Group facilitation
  • Strategic planning facilitation

Although most of the above-mentioned facilitation situations are valid, they’re not the type of facilitation you can expect from me.

To clarify, let’s look at two definitions…

Workshop facilitator
A content-neutral person who manages interactions of group participants through structured processes towards high quality, inclusive deliverables.
Facilitated workshop
An event supported by a content-neutral person facilitating a structured process to ensure that group participants reach predetermined deliverables most productively.

Based on these definitions, a workshop facilitator can be, but is not a:

  • Motivational speaker
  • Consultant
  • Content expert
  • Trainer
  • Lecturer
  • Programme director
  • Chairperson
  • Strategist
  • Tactician

The role of a workshop facilitator

The participants in a workshop are the task owners. They are the decision makers, the strategists, the business planners and the content owners.

The job of the skilled workshop facilitator is to support them in reaching their deliverables.

How is this done?

The workshop facilitator knows which deliverables workshop participants need to achieve. With that in mind, he / she:

  • Chooses and manages the most effective processes and tools.
  • Stimulates participation to co-create deliverables.
  • Massages the content relating to level, type and consistency.
  • Ensures effective recording and documenting of workshop results.

Guidelines for choosing a workshop facilitator

When a client decides to gather a group of people—his employees, for instance—in a venue, he does so for specific reasons.

It might be to:

  • Inspire
  • Inform
  • Instruct
  • Train
  • Build a team
  • Gather input from participants
  • Analyse situations
  • Craft plans
  • Make decisions
  • Solve problems

So in which of these situations should you get a facilitator to facilitate your workshop? Because you won’t always need one.

Let me clarify.

Use a workshop facilitator if you…

  • Need to engage group participants to co-create solutions. eg. strategies, plans, designs, frameworks.
  • Need to engage them in situation analyses, joint decision-making and / or problem solving.
  • Realise there are many views or opinions among participants, but clear results are important.
  • Need sufficient consensus.
  • Lack process expertise.
  • Need to test ideas and positions against other options.
  • Need high quality, acceptable results.
  • Need to create trust and openness among participants through a content-neutral party.
  • Want great value in a short timeframe.

Don’t use a workshop facilitator if…

  • The session is only informative. You’re using mainly presentations.
    • Consider a programme director to introduce the presenters and chair question-and-answer sessions.
    • This can be done by an internal official who has experience acting as a chairperson.
  • The group knows exactly what needs to be achieved and knows how to achieve it.
    • Let the group work it out.
  • You are not open to ideas or options other than your own.
    • Don’t use a workshop facilitator to “sell” your ideas or manipulate the group in pseudo-participative style to buy into your concepts. Inform the group directly about your wants.
  • You only want to inspire participants.
    • Consider hiring a motivational speaker or inspire the group yourself as a leader.
  • You want a topic expert to advise you.
    • Consider hiring a knowledgeable consultant or expert to present at your workshop.

Benefits of a well-facilitated workshop

This is how you benefit from a workshop that runs smoothly…

Improved decision quality

Having the right stakeholders present in the workshop, a concentrated focus to achieve deliverables enhances the quality of the result.

You can deal with disagreements, misunderstandings and different viewpoints as they surface, and seek sufficient consensus on solutions.

Decision quality requires quality information and represents rationality.

Improved acceptance of results

Participants’ involvement in facilitated processes lead to improved involvement in decision making and the co-creation of solutions.

This enhances the acceptance of the results, which assists in implementation of the decisions.

Acceptance represents personal and emotional commitment to support decisions.

Enhanced integration

A silo approach usually turns into a more integrated approach when the processes allow for a higher level of information.

Improved understanding and communication on conceptual levels provide direction, understanding and cooperation.

Enhanced productivity

Achieve decision quality and acceptance in a shorter time because of rapid information processing and the concentrated effort of the right stakeholders in facilitated processes.

Improved objectivity

Using a content-neutral facilitator and processes that minimise subjectivity, improves quality.

The facilitator can challenge the status quo and other content without fear, favour or prejudice.

I hope this clarifies what a workshop facilitator offers, and why you should get one to facilitate your next workshop.

Need someone to facilitate your next workshop? Make contact. I look forward to hearing from you.


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