What I learned during International Facilitation Week 2019

Affirming, confirming, learning! Here are my highlights from International Facilitation Week October 7 to 13, 2019. This week honours, explores, and promotes the power of facilitation worldwide. I find that the week is a great time to reflect on what I know and practice as a facilitator and what I want to learn. During FaceWeek, I facilitated three sessions; each with a different purpose, participants, process design, methods, and outcomes. I also talked with colleagues over the world via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram and participated in webinars through The OFU Online Facilitation Unconference @ofuexchange.

Here is what I reaffirmed:

Yes, facilitators, the wisdom is in the group.

Trust the participants to speak their truth, share their experiences, state what they need. When I feel an urge to explain or ask additional questions, I find that by waiting, a participant usually explains from her viewpoint or asks a compelling question.

Sometimes, the facilitator can serve best by “getting out of the way”.

Sometimes, participants need more support through design and facilitation; other times, they only need a neutral person to watch, listen, and support as necessary. Of the three groups, I facilitated,


  • In one group, each participant needed to say and to hear what each other dreamed as the vision for their organization.
  • One group needed to recover from a disaster that occurred and the participants wanted to dream again.
  • One group wanted to courageously, honestly and respectfully talk about potentially divisive issues.

I invited the first two groups to engage in visioning activities (ToP vision consensus method, VisualsSpeak images) which led to them speaking in a circle about what they mutually dreamed. For the third group, I only designed an opening focus conversation about appreciation, held it in a circle, and then listened as they developed the agenda and discussed the topics. I served the third group best by observing, occasionally asking them if they wanted to check their progress, needed a break, and whether they were at a decision point.

Know why, when, and how to hold the space for a group

I know that I often hold space for a group. I want to learn more about why, when, and how to hold space and continue to do so with a group. To hold space as a facilitator is to create, with participants, an environment in which they feel safe to say their truth and have others hear it with full attention and focus. An Indigenous participant in one of the three groups told me that what I was doing had aspects of being a witness as used in significant Indigenous events and work. I plan to blog separately about holding space, starting with the GroupWorks Pattern Language card. I also plan to learn more about the act of witnessing.

A simple design is good.

I was reminded during FAcWeek that the design of meetings, workshops, and other sessions can be simple, yet comprehensive. Understand as thoroughly as possible the outcomes wanted by the client and then design the most beneficial agenda and topics. Remember that discussions often take longer than anticipated, needs of the group may emerge that require a different design, and other factors may affect your design. Be prepared beforehand and be flexible “on the spot”. I now use emergent design more and more.

Facilitate a conversation in circle as much as possible.

I love facilitating in an open circle, using The Circle Way http://www.thecircleway.net/principles and practices or adapting them to the group. I find that, initially, participants may resist circle discussions since we often feel a need for a protective barrier offered by a table. I usually invite a group to hold one or two discussions in a circle and then move between the open circle and tables, depending on their preferences and the need to use tables for writing.

What do I want to learn more about, practice, and use?

  • Online facilitation: I thoroughly enjoyed the online sessions held during FacWeek and will practice more online facilitation in the upcoming year. I will intentionally use my Zoom Meeting plan more often. It’s time to invite colleagues, clients, friends, and family to play with me on Zoom!
  • Circles: I want to expand and deepen my knowledge of, and use of, facilitating in circles. It’s time for more training from The Circle Way!

What did you affirm and learn from Facilitation Week? Let me know via @barbpedersen, barbpedersen.ca and  www.barbpedersen.ca.

Contact me if you wish to explore facilitation learning together and/or you need facilitation services.

What I learned during International Facilitation Week 2019
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