Myth: Facilitators Manage the Process and Stay Out of the Content

Process Versus Content (all rights reserved)
The title of this post is a quote from blogger and facilitator Andrew Rixon from an interview with Bob Dick (described by Andrew as 'the father of facilitation in Australia') called 'The Top 5 Myths of Facilitation with Bob Dick'.  You can read the whole post here.

I recall an interesting P&C (school 'parents and citizens committee', like the US 'PTA') meeting at which I heard someone comment that the President (who chairs meetings) should not contribute their own opinion, and should not vote unless the votes are equal.  This seemed to me to be a quaint perspective.  The President is generally one of the best informed people in the room on topics of interest to the P&C.  Also, the Constitution of that organisation gave the Chair two votes - their personal vote and a further vote if the numbers are equal.  More importantly, why would someone put their hand up for this role if it both gagged and sidelined them in decision making?

I think the person seeking neutrality was harking back to a traditional and conservative meeting format which we seldom see in practice - the mythical 'detached meeting chair'.  At P&C and in other contexts, rather than pretending to be neutral, then using my role in mischievous ways, I prefer to participate openly.

In a professional role, the situation is different.  Often the facilitator is brought in to be 'a neutral party with process skills'.  If this is the case, betraying a personal perspective on 'content' may be inappropriate.  I use the word 'may' with care.  Sometimes a personal perspective can assist in your facilitation.

I recently facilitated a group of people for whom I am sometimes a customer.  During the session I intentionally stepped out of character as 'facilitator' by saying something like, "I would like to put my customer hat on for a few minutes ..."  I went on to tell them some home truths from their customers' perspective.  The group allowed me to take this role, and I think it was useful in pushing the discussion in some new directions.

Tom Peters is fond of stating that people working in services can be most effective when they are provocative.  When I am channelling Tom, I use hyperbole and sometimes personal attacks to get a response.  I hardly think I am being neutral when I do this, and I do it with caution, as people do not always take my criticism in the way it is intended.

For example, a little while ago I told a group, "Personally, I think you have it wrong, but as a group no-one else seems to be speaking up, so I guess we'll go it."  This was definitely not neutral.

I find it useful, in hindsight, distinguishing between situations in which I have striven to be neutral, and situations in which I have not been concerned with neutrality.  As I mature, I find myself more often in the latter than the former state.