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Global Flipchart #10



January 2018
| Issue #10

To facilitate or not to facilitate? That is the question

By Héctor Villarreal Lozoya

Some years ago, when starting my facilitation practice, a big multinational in the energy sector approached us for a facilitation engagement.

The challenge they had was to transform the responses of their annual employee survey into an action plan for the year. And they wanted to involve all the 130 members of the division to participate in a one-day event to make it happen.

Sounds like the ideal challenge for a facilitator to create engagement, participation and agreements. My client’s expectations for the outcomes were very reasonable. But our opinions on the resources and process to use differed greatly.

The ideal approach vs limitations of the project

I considered the ideal approach to be a team of several facilitators, at least two of them with a certain level of experience. Most participants had a university degree or higher, and my prior work with the organisation suggested such a facilitator team to increase our possibility for success.

We only had three weeks when we were informed of the event, and when we presented our ideas, the client rejected the idea. She had a very specific budget in mind, and it would only cover maybe a couple of facilitators at a very basic rate. We were told that if we needed any more help we could recruit from the HR personnel of the company.

The time to prepare the facilitator team was too limited, the stakes for the participants and client were high. We had to give an answer. Should we continue the engagement?

Our decision

After a lot of thought and consultation, and with greater pain than I wanted to admit at the time, we had to decline to participate. I know it was the right call, as the conditions were not in place for a successful facilitated session.

Could we have been successful with the limited resources provided? Maybe, but the prospects were not very good.

I believe that we are responsible to the client and also to the group. Delivering a good session requires the right preparation, resources and conditions.

At one point or another, we’re all presented with a situation where the conditions are not met even at a minimal level and thus it compromises the deliverables the team can obtain.

Doing a good job not only enhances our reputation as professionals but the profession as a whole, and we have the responsibility to train and teach our clients of the conditions that a group needs to be facilitated successfully.

Sometimes it is just the right call to end the session before it begins.