G . O . R . I . L . L . A .

Facilitate the power of love - confront the love of power.

The Art of Facilitation
by Pat Young

The practical benefits of empowered teams and of teamworking is supported by the experiences of a growing number of organisations and have been well documented in many recent books and reports.

Also well documented is the realisation that managers have to add to their already considerable repertoire of skills in order to manage the new empowered team effectively. These additions to the repertoire come under the heading of facilitation skills. The dictionary definition of a facilitator is: one who makes easier; one who assists the progress of another.

In our work with organisations who are making the transition to team based working and with managers who wish to learn how to facilitate, we have identified and defined a core set of conditions which are fundamental to the process of facilitating teamwork. The competency of a facilitator is measured by their ability to create and maintain these core conditions.

The Role of the Facilitator.
The context in which facilitation takes place is important, we can start to describe this by looking at some of the principle roles which the facilitator will use. These are the roles of teacher, guide, coach and leader.

 teacher, guide, coach and leader.

In the role of teacher, the facilitator teaches by showing how things are done, by example, by providing relevant and meaningful information, and by instruction where appropriate. The underlying intention here is to teach staff how to learn for themselves using their own experience as a benchmark.

In the role of guide, the facilitator provides wise counsel and appropriate advice; the underlying intention here is to enable staff to become able to guide themselves, and to welcome responsibility.

In the role of coach, the facilitator provides direct instruction to fine tune individual performance; the underlying intention is to set high standards and to enable staff to become self managing.

In the role of leader, the facilitator leads by example, exemplifies the values of the organisation and the team, and is a model of good team practice. The intention is to promote the ideal teamworking environment where creativity and initiative thrive.

The manager must choose which role to use at any given time and must then make a further decision about how to facilitate within the chosen role, for this there is a range of three options.
The first is to facilitate a team member away from the team, in a one to one situation. The second is to facilitate a team member 'one to one' within the team. Finally the manager has the option to facilitate the whole team. After deciding which of these options and roles to choose the manager must now decide how authority will be used, there are three modes of authority and power; Hierarchy, Co-operation and Autonomy.

Hierarchy,cooperation autonomy

In Hierarchical Mode, the manager is in absolute control and everybody knows and understands this. Hierarchically managed teams have a clear [explicit], or unstated [implicit] command and control system; there is commonly one right way of doing things, usually the manager's. The manager makes all decisions and decides on the correct course of action. In this mode the manager may not be using the expertise contained within the team, may be unable or unwilling to allow team members to take any responsibility, and can therefore stifle initiative.

In co-operative mode the manager and the team make decisions together. Essentially they meet to make decisions as peers, everyone has an equal say, and responsibility is shared and owned by all team members. Many managers say they manage co-operatively, but when it comes to the crunch they make the decisions themselves. When this happens the manager has moved back into hierarchical mode. There will of course be occasions when this is absolutely necessary, but many of these 'flips' back into hierarchy are driven by the manager's anxiety rather than need. Co-operative mode makes full use of the manager's and the team's expertise.

In autonomous mode, the manager gives authority and responsibility to the team to make decisions, and agrees to abide by the decisions the team makes. This mode makes full use of the expertise contained within the team, implies a high level of trust, and demands maturity and responsibility from manager and team. In autonomous mode the manager places trust in the expertise contained within the team.

There is no 'right mode'. No mode has greater priority than any other. The operating mode is dictated by situation and context. The effective manager is able to move between all three modes effortlessly, depending on the needs of the situation. Although there will always be situations which demand hierarchical management because of the nature of the job or some current crisis, effective teams are managed hierarchically only when hierarchy is appropriate.

To facilitate effective teamwork the manager must be clear about his or her intention, choose the appropriate role, option and operating mode. When the manager chooses wrongly, either by intention, or because of lack of proper training and experience, their practice has degenerated and effective teamwork is less likely to occur.

Creating the conditions where teamwork takes place.
All teams engage in a range of tasks, procedures, and processes. The task is the activity which the team engages in, such as producing widgets for sale to its customers. To achieve its task it will employ procedures, such as research and development, budgeting, marketing, production and so on. The people who employ the procedures to achieve the task, engage in interactive processes with each other.


If we use the analogy of an iceberg, then task and procedures are the part of the iceberg which is visible, processess are the part of the iceberg which is under the surface and therefore less visible. An understanding of processes is crucial to teamwork, yet they are probably the least understood.

The following sections focus on important aspects of process. The competent facilitator helps the team to identify and work with these by creating the right conditions within the team. This is a key issue for facilitators, when these conditions are desired but do not occur, responsibility for at least part of the problem lies with the facilitator.

The conditions for effective teamwork.

Reflect on experience.
This is based upon the premise that learning follows action, as opposed to the dominant view that action follows learning. You can see this premise clearly if we take the example of learning to swim or ride a bicycle. It is not until you take some action, such as getting into the water and splashing around, or trying to balance on a bicycle for the first time, that you have the opportunity to learn how to accomplish either of these tasks. In learning to swim or ride a bicycle your experience provides feedback which enables you to modify your subsequent performance until you achieve the desired outcome. Learning occurs when experience is transformed through reflection into action strategies.

You as manager must be able to self reflect before you can facilitate reflection and learning in your team. In order for your team to learn anything, including how to function as a team, it has to have experience upon which to reflect and, it has to set aside time to engage in reflection. Time for reflection is one of the most crucial conditions for effective teamwork. There are many useful models of reflective practice, one which we use regularly, is the experiential learning cycle.

experiential learning cycle

It begins by focusing on experience and asks the question, what did I just do? This is followed by, what did the experience mean for me? The final question is, what must I do next in order to extend my learning into action? Create the conditions for learning by setting regular time aside for reflection.

Recognise the needs of team members.
Managers must learn something of the interpersonal and societal relationships which occur in all teams and must teach their team members how to identify these dynamic elements of teamwork and guide them in how to work with them.

A team is a micro-society. All team members need to feel that they belong to the team, and at least some aspects of belonging are about 'social' needs; note that this is not the same as socialising, although socialising can sometimes help to meet 'social' needs. Social needs include the need to be seen and heard as a human being and a colleague, to be treated with basic respect, to give and receive support, as well as to fulfill the tasks of the job.

Managers need to recognise that part of the implicit reward of being a team member is the fulfilment of these and other social needs. Increased motivation, commitment and loyalty, to the team and to the organisation, are the benefits which accrue when these needs are met. Prove or disprove this for yourself by asking colleagues and team members.

Create a climate of co-operation.
Co-operation is a cultural value in effective teams. It is the realisation that the success of the team begins with the acknowledgement that everyone in the team has a part to play in its success and is entitled to a stake in this success. Team members thus become stakeholders. Inappropriate competition between team members is challenged. A good example of this can be found in the world of Formula One Motor Racing. Most teams have two drivers who aspire to be world champions, they are therefore in competition with one another. However, the team also aspires to be the world champion constructors. They expect both drivers and every other member of the team to aim for this objective too. They will not tolerate inappropriate competition between drivers for very long and usually issue instructions along the lines of, "Go out to win, but if you take each other 'off the road' in the process, your job will be on the line"! They recognise that inappropriate competition can cost them the world championship.

The process function of a team is to be 'greater than the sum of its parts'. This implicitly acknowledges that working in teams offers benefits to the organisation and to each individual member of the team, which could not be obtained if the individuals were working in isolation or were in competition with one another. Ask yourself if there is inappropriate competition within your team. If there is, identify ways in which this competition works against the team objective. With the team, identify areas where co-operation would improve performance and devise ways to achieve this.

Welcome conflict and work towards resolution.
People who are committed to a team will often have strong views about the best and worst practices of that team, possibly including your management. Understand that conflict should be welcomed and that its expression and resolution when competently managed leads to greater commitment and can free up a great deal of initiative and creativity. This also means that in most teams there is room for the maverick as well as the conformer and that both these types can usefully support and learn from each other. Remember that conflict expressed can be worked with, conflict withheld leads to resentment and can sabotage the efforts of the best teams and the best managers.

Value communication and dialogue.
People invest emotion in their opinions and want these to be heard. Communication and dialogue, or the free flowing of thoughts, views, ideas and feelings, occurs in an environment which can tolerate opposing views, and where there is commitment to work with these, to the benefit of all concerned. Set up regular times where you and your team members can share these thoughts, views and ideas and create a culture where people can speak their minds in the knowledge that no one, especially you the manager, will save up resentments to be used against individual team members at some later date.

Share ownership of the vision.
Do this by acknowledging that each team member will have their own version of the vision, and that this can be just as valid and powerful as your own. Take the time to share with each other your part in the vision and the ways in which you see it developing. Positively welcome ideas and be willing to engage in dialogue about them. In this way vision no longer becomes the exclusive province of the manager, but is shared out and owned by all members of the team. Commit regular time to develop and enhance the vision, to reflect upon, to review and to refine the vision collectively.

Work hard to create trust.
Effective, empowered teams have a very high trust factor, but this is earned, cannot be imposed, and should not be taken for granted. You as manager need to model the values which create trust, the most important of these is to be trustworthy yourself. Trust is the natural outcome of a culture which embodies the principles outlined here. Teams which develop trust, develop very high levels of commitment and are able to achieve great things. The literal meaning of trust, is a reliance on truth. Begin to create trust by being truthful with your team.

Work in the open.
Teamwork occurs in the open. This means that decisions, values, and outcomes should be public knowledge. This extends to the sharing of bad news as well as good. For example performance review and appraisals should wherever possible be carried out 'in team' and team members should be encouraged to appraise each other regularly, and you should be included in these appraisals. Encourage team members to assess themselves, they along with their peers will often be the best judges. As a reflective exercise, list the areas where you and your team could increase the amount of interaction and work which takes place in the open.

On going learning and development.
Most people are eager to learn and to develop themselves further. Provide relevant support for learning and development. Identify with team members opportunities for mutually beneficial development, and provide sufficient resources to accomplish this. Utilise the resources already within your team in terms of experience and know how. Set aside time where knowledge can be shared; share your own knowledge.

Facilitation is an on-going activity, you will need to keep yourself up to date with current thinking and techniques. Get appropriate specialised help when needed. Engage in regular self review and peer review, ask your team members how you are shaping up as a facilitator, ask them how you might improve. Encourage team members to become facilitators, offer them opportunities to practise and learn.

The ability to facilitate is an art. It demands high levels of awareness from those who wish to facilitate. The competency of the manager as facilitator is measured in the ability to do all of the above and to facilitate others to do the same.

Patrick Young can be contacted at, patyoung@pncl.co.uk

References and inspiration:
John Heron; The Facilitators Handbook.
David Kolb; Experiential Learning.
Donald Schon; The Reflective Practitioner.
© Pat Young September 1996

Except where otherwise indicated, these screens are maintained and © 1995,1996,1997,1998,1999,2000, 2002, 2003,2004 Denis Postle. All rights reserved. Last updated 12th August 2004