Training: taking up the conductor’s baton

It may be part of the training portfolio, but facilitating is not training. Facilitators are keen to stress this. “Trainers and consultants do tasks and deliver an end product, but facilitators don’t have any function in the task and they don’t deliver anything,” says Tony Mann, a facilitator and director at the organisation, Masters of Change. “The fundamental difference is that facilitators design a process.”

Unlike trainers, facilitators don’t set out to impart a predetermined set of skills or knowledge to a group. The idea is that they help a group to deal with what it already knows and resolve any issues or difficulties its members are experiencing. “This is done through process,” says Martin Gilbraith, director of ICA UK, a network of organisations specialising in transformation. “Facilitating involves bringing a structured process to a group to enable its members to most effectively accomplish aims together.”

Process is all-important in facilitating. When learning how to facilitate, a person will learn a variety of different processes and techniques to use with a group.

A good facilitator knows which process will work best in a particular situation, which processes suit different people and when to switch the process, if necessary. “A key skill facilitators need to have is the flexibility to adapt the process when it needs to be adapted,” says Mann.

Be adaptable

This adaptability is also important when designing the process. Mann says a facilitator has to be prepared to take risks and act outside of their own comfort zone. “You have to be able to come up with a process that meets the needs of a group,” he says. “That process might look very odd to them and even to you, but you have to be bold. You need to be able to recognise lots of different techniques and processes and how to apply them.”

It requires all the basic group skills one would expect of a person working in training. But Gilbraith says certain skills are particularly important: active listening, careful questioning, an ability to assess a situation and a group, and good decision-making skills. The International Association of Facilitators has compiled a list of core competencies it thinks a facilitator needs. These can be found at:

How much a facilitator charges varies greatly. The cost is determined by individual factors such as the length of the event, the number of people involved, amount of preparation needed and so on. Gilbraith says ICA charges 300-500 a day per facilitator.

There are several training programmes for facilitators. Masters of Change runs a five-day programme that teaches all the preliminary skills from scratch. Typically, the first two days focus on teaching techniques to recognise what tools are needed, and the third day links those techniques to personality. “Different personalities like different tools, so you have to be able to recognise the types in a room and which people will respond well to which tools,” explains Mann.

Days four and five concentrate on real-life situations, when the would-be facilitators have to put their newly learned skills into action. Mann says the cost of the ‘Route to Master Facilitation’ programme is about 10,000 for eight people. This covers the training, materials, accommodation and travel.

ICA UK facilitation training costs from 425 per delegate for two days for private and public clients, to 295 for the same for large voluntary organisations.

Build on the knowledge

Courses such as these are just the starting point. Once facilitators have learned the various processes, they need to start building on that knowledge with experience. Mann thinks this should take place under the tutelage of a seasoned facilitator.

Thorough preparation is the other key component of successful facilitation. This means researching the situation to be facilitated, the group and the organisation. The facilitator needs to know exactly what the group is trying to achieve and why. Gilbraith says it is vital that the facilitator does their homework properly and then design the process accordingly. “You need to tailor the process to the situation every time,” he says.

He adds that the facilitator also needs to consider the space the event will take place in and the logistics. “How you set up the space and getting the logistics right can have an enormous impact on the group.”

These considerations are easily overlooked but are very important. Get them right and the facilitator can concentrate properly on the job in hand, helping a group to achieve its aims.

Dos and don’ts


  • Design the right process, tailor-made to the group and situation
  • Your homework on the group, the situation and the organisation
  • Continually assess how it is going so that you can change the process if necessary
  • Be quick to respond and act to the changing dynamics and needs of a group
  • Have a positive reaction to change
  • Think about the space and logistics
  • Be creative about designing the process
  • Be flexible
  • Be calm under pressure
  • Be able to switch from taking the lead to taking a back seat and letting the group move issues forward.


  • Get involved in the task
  • Allow yourself too little time
  • Accept a room that is too small – breaking into groups takes space
  • View any people as difficult – think of people as individuals with different needs
  • Facilitate too large a group.

Comments are closed.