The Future of Facilitators PDF Print E-mail

April 2012 - The FoCuSeD™ Facilitator eNewsletter



The Future of Facilitators | Gary Rush Facilitation

I have been providing Facilitator services since 1983, and Facilitator training since 1985, and I’ve seen quite a change over the years. The change has more to do with how Facilitators are viewed and how they are used within organizations rather than with the process itself. Looking at how the industry has changed gives me comfort for the future of Facilitators.


The 1980’s


Facilitators were around before the 1980’s but were not called Facilitators. The first use of the word “Facilitator,” to describe what we do, was in 1985. Prior to that, we were called “Session Leaders” or “Process Leaders”. That change in 1985 also brought questions, most notably, “What do you do?” (My father used to introduce me with, “This is my son; he is successful and I think what he does is legal.”) Whenever I spoke with a potential client, the first thing I did was explain what a Facilitator did and why they needed to hire me. Facilitation was used largely in community groups, non-profit groups, and other non-corporate and non-government agency entities. Some corporations and government agencies were testing the waters with Facilitators, largely through the growth of IBM’s Joint Application Design (JAD) technique. Facilitators were becoming mainstream.


In 1989, the General Services Administration (GSA) developed a program for Senior Executive project managers (the Trail Boss program) and one of the guidelines encouraged the use of “facilitated workshops” for all projects.


The 1990’s


In the 1990’s, the use of Facilitators grew a great deal. Companies established cadres of Facilitators, some even setting up specific facilitation departments. Facilitators were used for IT system requirements, strategic planning, team-building, problem solving, and many other types of projects. Their acceptance grew and fewer clients needed to ask, “What does a Facilitator do?” In 1994, we saw the formation of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF). Facilitators were now mainstream. By the end of the 90’s, we also had the IAF’s Certified™ Professional Facilitator (CPF) program established to assess and certify Professional Facilitators. We were now a recognized profession*.


The 2000’s


In the 2000’s, changes continued as organizations began to see the value of facilitation. Instead of growing larger departments of Facilitators, though, organizations spread the use of facilitation by incorporating it into the jobs of others. The number of Facilitator departments began to shrink yet the number of people facilitating continued growing. Project Managers, Business Analysts, and HR Professionals were now being trained to use facilitation skills in their jobs. Most facilitation consulting firms combined their facilitation skills with other skills to provide a stronger service – facilitation skills gave them a competitive edge – another entree into organizations. Facilitating is no longer done solely by dedicated Facilitators; others are now facilitating.


What this means for the Future


There is still a growing need for dedicated Facilitators, most working independently or as members of a consulting firm, but within organizations, there is a growing trend towards making facilitation skills a core competency of many jobs – this impact needs to be acknowledged. This is what I’ve been hoping for – facilitation viewed as so effective that many people include it as part of their job. This shift and the growing acceptance of facilitation necessitate changes for the future.


Changes for the Future


Any job, whether face-to-face or virtual, that requires working with people can use facilitation skills. We have to look at how facilitation skills are deployed, how facilitation is taught, and how the industry association supports Facilitators and facilitation.


How Facilitation Skills are Deployed


When using facilitation in a role that precludes neutrality, such as leading, the facilitation skills need to be a seamless part of the job.


When using facilitation in a role that supports neutrality, such as Project Management, Business Analysis, and HR Professionals, the roles need to be clearly defined to focus on process rather than content.


While internal people can handle the facilitation needs, using an outside Facilitator is effective when perceived neutrality is critical, such as with strategic plans, steering committees, and project initiation.


How Facilitation is Taught


Training needs to encourage students to use their learned skills in any situation and recognize that facilitating is not the only job they are doing. Being rigid and insisting on “the right way” creates barriers when thoughtful flexibility opens doors.


How the Industry Association Supports Facilitators and Facilitation


Finally, the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) has to set a clear course to either support dedicated Facilitators or support all facilitation with its many facets. There is not one right answer. Given the growing use of facilitation and its influence over many other professions, I would encourage the IAF to support all facilitation with its many facets and change its name to the International Association of Facilitation.




When I began, I envisioned cadres of dedicated Facilitators in every organization, but facilitation has had such a profound impact, that today, I see many people facilitating as part of their job, which gives me comfort for the future of facilitation. logo


*Note: Group Facilitator is recognized as a profession even though the term “Facilitator” is used by both those who facilitate groups as well as those who teach. The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) and its members commonly use the term “Facilitator” instead of “Instructor/Teacher” because they encourage teachers to facilitate student learning – a good change. This causes confusion though, so I qualify the names as: Group Facilitator and Learning Facilitator to distinguish between the two. This also highlights just how much of an impact facilitation has – becoming a core competency for Project Managers, Business Analysts, HR Professionals, as well as Instructors/Teachers.