Friday 17 April 2015

What's different about facilitation?

Facilitation is one of the Key skills of the Knowledge Manager. The vast majority of organisational knowledge is carried in people's heads, and the most effective way to transfer knowledge is through human interaction.  A good facilitator can help remove many of the cultural and personal barriers to this interaction.

Effectively identifying and exchanging knowledge in a meeting requires high quality interactions between people.

It needs open behaviours (listening, exploring, not criticising) and it needs dialogue rather than argument or debate.

It requires balanced input from many people - not a few people talking, and the others listening - and it requires process to be followed, within a given time frame.

Without facilitation, none of these are easy to achieve!

So what exactly is facilitation, and how does it work?

A good illustration of facilitation, and how it differs from teaching and coaching,  is the "facilitraining rainbow".  I am not sure who first drew this diagram, but I include my version here.  It shows different types of interaction between and individual and a group, with "teaching-style interactions on the right, and facilitator-style interactions on the left. Basically:

  • A teacher "owns the content" of the interaction. They own the knowledge and pass it on to someone else;
  • A facilitator owns the process, and the participants in the interaction own the knowledge.

To facilitate is therefore to impartially support the interaction between the participants in order to optimise knowledge discovery, creation or transfer. To facilitate is to serve the group by encouraging, aiding, and leading the dialogue.

The zone of the Knowledge Management facilitator is therefore definitely on the left hand side of the rainbow.  The KM facilitator has low ownership of the knowledge content, and a variable level of interaction with the group in question.

In Retrospect meetings, After Action reviews or other lessons capture meetings, the level of facilitator interaction with the discussion is relatively high, and considerable discussion facilitation may be needed. In a Retrospect, the facilitators role is to ensure the team reach ground truth, and deliver valuable lessons.

Similarly in ideation or innovation processes the facilitator may be more interactive as they strive to ensure a high level of open thinking.

In other KM processes such as Peer Assist, Knowledge Exchange, Knowledge Markets, Knowledge handovers and so on the facilitator is less active, and often acts more as a process and behaviour monitor.

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