What is a facilitator?

Rather than being the “sage on the stage”, a facilitator is the “guide on the side”, and it's probably the most important craft in our time.

What is a facilitator?
Photo by Jason Goodman / Unsplash

Although it has been around for long, and is often confused with coaching, there is still doubt about what a facilitator is.

In many ways, a coach is also a facilitator, since a coach leads the client through a facilitation process.

The key difference between a coach and a facilitator, however, is groups. A facilitator primarily works with groups. Not one-on-one.

You could say that a team coach is a facilitator then, and I would agree with you, but when talking about coaching, people imagine a one-on-one situation.

You will have to add the word “team” to the word “coach” to have coaching focus on several people at once.

By contrast, the word facilitator naturally implies that you are working with a group of people.

Which brings us to better understand what a facilitator actually is, since coaching isn't really the best comparison.

Centralized vs. decentralized

Preaching is, however.

If facilitation is at one end of the spectrum, then preaching is at the other end.

To use a more modern word, we could call it motivational speaking, but the image of the preacher is more powerful.

A preacher is a “sage on the stage”. It's a person who knows something we don't, and who communicates it by speaking to a larger audience.

It's a centralized concept.

Conversely, a facilitator is a “guide on the side”. It's a person who uses exercises to reveal the knowledge already present in people, and helps them combine it into new solutions through a well-designed process.

It's a decentralized concept.

Collective consciousness

In other words, as a preacher, you have to know it all. As a facilitator, you don't have to know anything – except how to facilitate.

That makes a facilitator much more suitable for the time we live in because it paves the way for collective consciousness.

The fact is that we have never been more knowledgeable as a species, but at the same time, knowledge has never been more scattered. It's literally spread out on billions of individuals.

Meaning, that our knowledge is decentralized to begin with, so why go to one single individual to find the way forward?

It makes much more sense to facilitate processes that crystallize the vast ocean of knowledge inside all of us for the occasion, so we can come up with new solutions.

Personal experiences

Personally, I have experimented extensively for the past 15 years with being both the “sage on the stage” and the “guide on the side”.

In my experience, the latter always brings the best results because it allows people to find out for themselves  – and makes them independent of you.

As the “sage on the stage”, there is the risk of people following you blindly, and thereby robbing themselves of finding the answers on their own. They make themselves dependent on your sagely advice.

It goes without saying that there is no learning in that, but if that's what you want, then by all means, go find your sage.

The path to growth

Be warned, though. I have witnessed first hand how it can lead to poor decision-making.

I would even say that the poor decisions I have made in my own life are a direct result of not listening to myself, but to another person.

By comparison, being the “guide on the side” has always delivered good results, both for me and others.

Every time I have taken myself as a “know-it-all oracle” out of the equation, I have seen people grow and make great decisions to improve their lives.

And, every time I have removed my own need for sagely advice, and embarked on a journey to find my own answers, I have made solid progress.

Decentralized living

I believe we live in a time when the evolutionary key is collective consciousness.

Not in the sense that we should all be alike and have the same meanings. Not at all.

What we have to learn, however, is to operate in a decentralized way in everything we do.

Putting our trust in a single individual, or a single government or dogma, isn't the way forward anymore.

We have to learn to put trust in ourselves as unique individuals, and in the process of bringing all of us together in a lot of shared processes to create the solutions of the future.

No sage in the world can take us there. Only skilled facilitators can, which is why it's one of the most important crafts in the time we live in.

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