Facilitation, a leadership tool that cannot be used enough!

The value of facilitation lies in its ability to create and sustain an environment where everyone participates and every voice is heard.


My consulting and coaching work allows me to look closely at the talent organisations and how they harness their potential. Most organisations have a great set of people, capable of doing much more than they are engaged in. Still, most of their potential remains untapped, sometimes throughout their corporate lives. They excel at what they do, but organisations need to ask if that is all they have to offer. How often do they engage in a way that allows them to think beyond their jobs, ponder collectively on issues and challenges that confront the organisation and feel that they have contributed to the organisation’s larger vision of the organisation? Not many.

Most leaders believe that it is their job to think and strategise while it is for others to implement.

Even if leaders want to include others in the strategic thinking process, they are never sure if they will get honest and unbiased views or will everyone only play to the gallery.

One great way to challenge this mindset and help leaders discover what their people genuinely believe in is by resorting to facilitation, which I often do across my consulting and team coaching engagements.

I am always amazed at the wisdom that members collectively offer to solve the organisation’s problems when provided an opportunity. Almost every workshop ends with better-than-expected results, which speaks volumes for any organisation’s hidden talent and the effectiveness of the facilitation process in discovering this talent.

What is facilitation?

Facilitation in the context of business and organisational development is the process of designing and running a meeting or a workshop, or a series of multiple events according to a previously-agreed set of requirements. Facilitation serves the needs of any group, meeting with a common purpose, whether it is arriving at a decision, solving a problem, or simply exchanging ideas and information.

Why does facilitation work?

The value of facilitation lies in its ability to create and sustain an environment where everyone participates and every voice is heard. Each participant gets to contribute, irrespective of rank and status. The process helps guide the group to appropriate and useful outcomes in a collaborative and consensus-driven manner. Everyone walks out of the workshop feeling empowered and owning the decisions.

Any effectively conducted facilitation intervention should offer the following takeaways:

· Liberate leadership.

· Tap the collective capacity and wisdom of a group.

· Build inclusive participation.

· Engage everyone.

· Fuel bottoms-up innovation.

· Empower.

· Unshackle outdated ways of thinking.

· Unleash creative destruction.

· Get everyone to own the outcome.

The exciting thing is that one can conduct facilitation workshops with groups of any size, as small as 8-10, which is the typical size of a leadership team and large groups with 100 or more participants. Typical facilitation workshops usually start with an exciting check-in and some ice-breaking activities. It is incredible to discover how little people know about their colleagues despite working together for years and how delighted they are to find how much they have in common.

These initial activities help with rapport building and lower everyone’s defense shields, preparing them for the creative process to follow. The following sessions give people an opportunity to think individually around the central theme or burning question for the facilitation intervention. They then get to bounce off their creative ideas in a smaller group, build on each other’s ideas and finally arrive at some common ideas. Eventually, each group gets to share their ideas with the larger group. I like to end my facilitation workshops with a voting process so that participants get to list the group’s collective priorities.

So far, I have had the privilege of running facilitation workshops on very diverse outcomes, such as:

· What might we do to create new revenue opportunities?

· What more can we do to live our company values?

· What might be our enterprise-wide strategic priorities for and beyond?

· How do we operationalise our company values into specific actions and behaviours?

· How do we get to be a more inclusive organisation?

· What might our incremental, exponential and disruptive ideas look like?

· What can we do to become more customer-centric (as against being product-centric)?

These seemingly simple and straightforward outcomes emerge from a series of discussions with the CEO or the leadership team members.

The trick is to sum up the organisation’s most pressing challenges or priorities in a simple question to which everyone can relate.

As a facilitator, our job is to set in motion a process and create an atmosphere where people can contribute without being constrained by their roles and positions. The more cross-functional the participants are, the more value we get out of any facilitation process.

I genuinely believe that when it comes to facilitation interventions, the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.

The only caveat is that group thinking should not hijack the facilitation process and a facilitator knows precisely how not to let this happen!

We cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves – Galileo Galilei

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest organisation leading the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering coaching’s role as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 35,000-plus members located in more than 140 countries and territories work toward the common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and maintaining the highest ethical standards. Through the work of its six unique family organisations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organisations, communities and the world through coaching. Visit coachingfederation.org for more information.

In India, ICF is represented by six vibrant chapters, all led by volunteers — ICF Bengaluru, ICF Chennai, ICF Delhi NCR, ICF Mumbai, ICF Pune and ICF Hyderabad.

The author, Sandeep Jain is an ICF ACC credentialed coach, affiliated with the ICF Delhi NCR chapter. After spending 25+ years in various finance and business leadership roles across the Asia-Pacific, Sandeep is now based in India and works as a strategy consultant and leadership coach, while also mentoring startups. A chartered accountant and a certified internal auditor by qualification, he has pursued various executive-management education programmes. He is also a Marshall Goldsmith certified coach, a Peter Hawkins certified systemic and team coach, an NLP practitioner and a certified Hogan assessor. His company, called Value-Unlocked, partners with organisations and people to help them own change and create a better version of themselves.

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