There are many different ways to educate, enlighten and empower people to create solutions that drive positive impact in the world. In our last blog post, The Magic of Solving Your Own Problems, we looked at business situations where it makes the most sense to train your people to tackle challenges internally, rather than seek external advice. This month, we’ll continue to investigate the value of building skills and capabilities in your people by exploring the difference between consulting, teaching and facilitating.
From our point of view at ExperiencePoint, the most effective way to build capability that results in lasting impact isn’t via consulting or teaching, but through facilitation. This isn’t just semantics; it’s a word we use deliberately. While facilitators, consultants and teachers all play important roles, they’re different roles.
Consultants vs Teachers vs Facilitators
In order to understand why ExperiencePoint relies on facilitators to deliver our programs, we’ll need to take a closer look at the primary function of consultants, teachers and facilitators.
Consultants are brought in to lend their expertise and insights. They are typically hired for a short-term engagement with a specific intention—they’re there to solve your problem. They might inspire you with their ideas, but the main goal is to come up with the ideas and solutions themselves. You pay consultants for their insights.
Teachers focus on setting you up for success by giving you examples and constructive models, a point of view based on their expertise and solutions when you get stuck. Essentially, they’re there to “drop some knowledge.” You pay teachers to give you the answers.
Facilitators focus on setting you up to learn. They do that by asking questions and conducting activities that reveal your habitual behaviors—behaviors that might be getting in your way. They’re there to help you recognize your mistakes, discover how to get past them and develop the confidence to try again. You pay facilitators to build capabilities.
Each of these roles serves a purpose and comes from a place of good intention. For example, the consultant’s good intent is to inspire you with their ideas. When you’re stuck or struggling, they’ll tell you, “Here’s what I would do.” But since they are the ones actually producing the insights, you aren't developing the ability to produce comparable insights on your own. You'll have to go back to them again and again when you have new challenges or need new ideas.
Teachers have their own good intentions when it comes to setting a client up for success. They give you access to their breadth of knowledge. If you’re stuck or veering off track, they’ll say, “Here are some more examples of how people have handled these kinds of situations.” But providing answers and examples doesn’t break down the counterproductive behavior barriers that could be getting in your way. This is why constructive models don’t always get you very far; if you don’t have the opportunity to learn from your failures, you’ll keep tripping up.
With the goal of building your capabilities, facilitators take a different approach to problem-solving. They’ll say, “Let's look at the work you've done thus far," and then offer some reproducible structure—often in the form of a question—that helps you recognize where your challenge comes from and how you can address that challenge.
Facilitators encourage you to try (and potentially fail) in order to elevate your confidence and allow you to make your own connections and conclusions. A facilitator believes that the knowledge doesn’t necessarily live within you, but the capability does.
If what you’re delivering doesn’t require breaking down bad habits or behaviors—such as a simple course in programming—then teaching might be the best way to go. If your organization needs a quick, one-off result, a consultant might be the best option. But if you want your people to fix a problem themselves, feel accountable for the solution's implementation and be able to solve similar challenges down the road, you’ll need a facilitator.
Failure and Capability Building
The prospect of failing can create a lot of anxiety. Failure sounds like a pretty undesirable outcome. But a good facilitator knows how to mete out failure so that a person can benefit from the lessons it provokes. A good facilitator knows how to make it “safe” to fail. The art of effective facilitation allows people to learn from their mistakes while slowly solidifying new knowledge and capabilities that will become the framework of future success.
This is also why the “safe spaces” of the ExperienceChange™ and ExperienceInnovation™ workshops and simulation environments are so crucial. Participants get to experience what failure is like without having to face massive risk or damage to the ego.
In fact, failure is key to both of these learning experiences. ExperienceChange™ is all about closing the knowing-doing gap. Having knowledge, examples and models of how to lead change doesn’t mean you’ll do it effectively. Only after someone has failed and then recognized and broken down their limiting behaviors does it make sense to introduce a constructive model.
The facilitator's role is critical in the ExperienceInnovation™ simulation, which challenges you to rethink so many assumptions. We often refer to the simulation as "an assault on everything you think you know." Practice is also central to the experience, and the value of practice is in learning from mistakes.
In both workshops, the facilitator’s role is to hold a mirror to people’s habitual behavior and let them see what’s standing in their way. As participants try, fail and recognize their mistakes, the facilitator offers suggestions and ways to reframe their approach before encouraging them to try again. This hands-on, trial-and-error process means that participants build both confidence and capabilities that will empower them to drive positive outcomes in the future.
Maintaining a Facilitation Mindset
Many people think they’re facilitating when what they’re really doing is teaching. Here are some points to keep in mind:
- Be aware of your reflexes. When someone asks a question, do you answer it instinctively? Or do you find a way to reframe the question as a provocation that they can investigate themselves? The latter approach is an example of facilitating.
- Unlike a teacher, a facilitator is responsible for extracting knowledge from the room, not “dropping knowledge.” The facilitator’s bias is towards learning, not instructing.
- Setting people up to fail isn’t easy but, remember, the goal is to stretch, not break. Give them opportunities to do well, and acknowledge their successes.
- Make it clear that failure isn’t a catastrophe, and encourage a healthy respect for the humility that’s present in the learning process. As one of our clients recently shared with us, “We have long been a successful “knowing” organization. We can maintain that mindset and be a broke-knowing organization. Or, we can become a “learning” organization."
It’s often a lot easier just to lay out the answers for people, but don’t get seduced into teaching or consulting. A great facilitator facilitates.
Interested in learning more about our approach to internal problem-solving? Read about our workshops here.