top of page

Facilitation isn't like teaching, or is it?

I remember the first few retreats I facilitated early on in my business. I felt this pressure to know all the things and have all the answers.

No one I was working with put these expectations on me. The pressure I felt came mostly from within. It stemmed from an assumption and a limiting belief.

Unconsciously, I thought the role of the facilitator was akin to being a teacher. And our education system has reinforced the limiting belief that teachers already know the answer.

Hence my incessant preparations to "know all the things" prior to the retreat.

Once I was on the job, I couldn't squander my curiosity. I was genuinely fascinated to hear the ideas and contributions of others. I found myself stepping away from needing to know all the things and wanting to support effective problem solving.

Making this shift was both liberating and invigorating. I wasn't the teacher at the front of the room leading the class to some forgone conclusion. Instead, I was the catalyst for constructive conversation where people's ideas were building upon another until something phenomenal and unexpected emerged.

Facilitation isn't teaching because there isn't one known right answer. There's no test. Instead, it's a mind jam with others where the sum is greater than the whole of it's parts.

Yet, when I think back on the best teachers I had, they approached their craft from a similar place as I do when facilitating. Sure, my best teachers in school had knowledge, wisdom and experiences I didn't possess. But they also acted as guides rather than answer keys.

They engaged me in meaningful conversations. Posed insightful questions. Encouraged me to expand my thinking. Drew forth my ideas so they could be refined and enhanced. And artfully contributed their own knowledge with reverent impact. In other words, they weren't know-it-alls.

So facilitation isn't like teaching in the conventional sense. And exceptional teachers fly in the face of convention. In which case, being a skilled facilitator is like being an exceptional teacher.

What's more, this is a skill anyone can learn. As humans, we are hardwired for connection, belonging and communication. We are also capable of navigating complexity and grappling with uncertainty - two things exceptional teacher's have developed comfort around.

Cultivating these skills may come easier for some than others. It may or may not draw on your strengths. It's quite possible that it's about as interesting to you as reconciling QuickBooks is to me (read it's a chore I'd gladly put off or better yet, delegate).

Do you want to cultivate your skills as a facilitator? You might start by reflecting on how exceptional teachers engaged you in learning. What did they do to bring forth your ideas and get you to think in new and different ways? How might you experiment with embodying those practices in conversation with others?

The logistical parts of facilitating are but one piece of the puzzle. Creating an atmosphere where people are willing to show up, feel safe enough to engage, and open enough to listen to each other is an essential piece that often goes overlooked.

Are you planning a retreat for your team but don't know how to get started? Schedule a 30 minute call with me and leave with a clear focus for your retreat planning efforts.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page