Facilitate This!

Buzzwords drive me nuts. Your organization probably has its own over-used business cliches. You may even have played Buzzword Bingo in order to liven up a long and tedious meeting.

Buzzwords, or catch phrases, are different from “jargon” in that jargon has a specific use or purpose, whereas buzzwords are so overused that they have become cliched. In fact, the user can be perceived as insincere, unoriginal, or ingratiating.

One such word that’s been bugging me recently is “facilitate”. The fact that it has become a buzzword immediately imparts a negative connotation, and as someone who facilitates – that is just wrong!

What is facilitation anyway?

fa·cil·i·tate transitive verb \fə-ˈsi-lə-ˌtāt\ : to make easier : help bring about

Thank you Merriam-Webster Dictionary for that very unspecific definition. I skimmed some of the comments below the definition, and read the following, which I found much more helpful:

Facilitating is like a traffic cop directing the traffic. He’s not telling anyone where to go…he’s just helping them get where THEY want to go.

In fact, facilitation is an art form, really. Think of the traffic cop in the comment above. Have you ever seen a video of those amazing traffic cops who keep things moving along with style? (No? Click here)

The fact is, every organization needs an artful facilitator from time to time. Whether you are trying to develop a complex strategic plan, decide upon a course of action, or brainstorm solutions, sometimes it’s helpful to have an objective third party leading the discussion.

Herding Cats isn’t Easy

Could someone involved in the issue facilitate the discussion? Certainly. But it’s a lot easier to herd cats when you aren’t one of the cats. Click to tweet. People who are too close to the issue have trouble separating themselves, hearing all sides, and considering all options.

A skilled facilitator can:

  1. ask the “dumb” questions that no one else will. By doing this, the facilitator addresses all the hidden issues or “elephants in the room” and brings everyone to the same level for a healthy discussion.
  2. remain completely objective. If an external facilitator is selected, then he or she has absolutely no vested interest in the outcome. It’s unlikely that he or she knows the parties around the table and therefore has no “baggage” or preconceived notions. Like the traffic cop, the facilitator helps the group get to where THEY want to go.
  3. ensure that everyone participates in the discussion. We’ve all seen that person who sits with arms folded and brow furrowed. A truly talented facilitator can burst through that facade and encourage participation.

Next time you hear the word facilitate, consider the intent. Is it being used incorrectly? Perhaps you can throw a different idea in the ring, run it up the flagpole, think outside the box, and start a paradigm shift.


Until next time,

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