Who are these people and what do they do?
The first thing you need to know about facilitators is that the word facilitator comes from the French word ‘facile’ which means easy. This does not mean that facilitation is easy, anything but.
All you really need to know is that facilitators make difficult things easy and how they go about this is the result of years of experience in the art of facilitation. You can watch them in action for days and have no clue what they are about to do next. As Senor Wences used to say, “Difficult for you, easy for me”.
It’s probably best to highlight what a facilitator does not do. First of all, they don’t borrow your watch to tell you what time it is. And, they are not domain experts so no point asking them what is the best way to do this or that.
Facilitators don’t do a lot of talking. Mostly, they just listen. About all you are likely to get out of them is “… and then, what do you do next?”. So, clearly, in terms of content, most of the heavy lifting is up to you.
Their magic becomes apparent when you respond to a ‘… and then, what do you do next?” question.
A good facilitator will map your process as fast as you can describe that process. Whereas they may not have an inventory of good jokes they typically arrive with an inventory of images of your forms that they have organized into a “bucket”. As you describe your process, they not only map out the steps, they ask you to identify what forms are needed at each step for data collection at run time. And, they then drag and drop and attach the appropriate forms to your process steps. Is this magical? Absolutely.
Facilitators are high tech. They arrive with their own laptops. The laptop, a telescoping pointer and your projector is all they need to keep a small group of stakeholders on the edge of their chairs. No white boards, no post-its, no brown paper – these are not the tools of facilitators.
Facilitators, when they say anything at all, they speak your language. They don’t use Uniform Modeling Languages. And the symbols they use are mostly restricted to circles, arrows and square boxes.
If you want to remain on their good side, its important to understand that facilitators do not take kindly to stakeholders who text, talk on the phone, try to leave the room or doze off. The telescoping pointer is not just for pointing – it extends the reach of the facilitator by about three feet and facilitators are very adept at reaching out and tapping anyone who needs help focusing.
Too much inattention and you are likely to inherit the mouse and be stuck with extending the process map yourself.
Lastly, facilitators understand that stakeholders want “instant gratification”. Any process fragment that gets mapped during any session will be compiled and running by the end of the session such that the process can be piano-played with a small group of stakeholders that same day. It’s not like a soap opera where you have to wait until tomorrow to see what happens next.
And, as and when stakeholders complain that there are missing steps in a process, that the order of the steps is not right, that the forms at a step are not the right forms, as fast as alternatives are proposed, the process map will have been revisioned, recompiled, rolled-out to the run-time environment, and, available for another round.
Next time you are working with a mapped, improved, best practice, try to remember the weekend where you built this best practice protocol with old what’s his/her name.