Facilitate … Huh?

I see the blank look come into people’s eyes when I try to explain what I do as a facilitator. Their reactions are funny and frustrating! Over the years, I have tried to explain what facilitation is; have pondered what facilitation is; and laughed and snarled at the strange definitions given to facilitation.

Here are some of the various weird and wonderful definitions I have heard or read:

  •  Facilitating is like teaching kindergarten – trying to get all the noise and running going in the same direction.
  • Facilitation is helping a group nail Jell-O to the wall!

The strangest definition I had heard was during an appointment with a new dentist many years ago. He asked what I did for work and I replied that I was a facilitator. He got a funny look on his face and asked me to tell him more. After I explained my work, he laughed and shared this story. One of his clients told him that she was a professional escort; however, since that profession is illegal, she always reported on her annual income tax statement that she was a facilitator! Not quite the work that I do!

I have developed several elevator speeches to explain facilitation which go like this:

  •  I help people in groups talk about important topics, reach beneficial decisions and work together more effectively.


  • I help people in groups discuss and make decisions about topics that are important to them.

However, I have discovered that the best way to describe facilitation to others is to give them examples of discussions and conversations I have facilitated and hosted. Then, I ask them about group discussions in which they participate at work, in community, as a volunteer. Often, the conversation turns to situations in which they could have used a facilitator. Their personal experiences help them understand what I do.

Here are a few definitions of facilitation that I like.

  • Facilitation’s is generally considered to be a process in which a neutral person helps a group work together more effectively.
  • A facilitator’s job is to support everyone to do their best thinking and practice. (Kaner, S. with Lind, L., Toldi, C., Fisk, S. and Berger, D. Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, (2007) Jossey-Bass)
  • At heart, facilitation is about the process of helping people to explore, learn and change. (Smith, Mark K. (2001; 2009) ‘Facilitating learning and change in groups’, www.infed.org/biblio/b-facil.htm)
  • The facilitator’s main task is to help the group increase effectiveness by improving its process and structure. (Schwarz, Roger M. (2002) The Skilled Facilitator: A Comprehensive Resource for Consultants, Facilitators, Managers, Trainers and Coaches. 2e. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.)

My facilitation blog questions are: How do you define facilitation? What is the funniest or strangest definition you have heard?


Facilitate … Huh?