Finding Joy in Facilitation

Joy-Banner 2

I realized that for several blogs in a row, I have written about fairly heavy topics. And my mood is lighter these days. How about we talk about finding joy in facilitation?

Hummingbirds are messengers of joy thus the art piece in the banner above. My friend, Julie, another facilitator among many other talents, gave it to me and I do not see an artist’s name on it but thank you to whoever designed this piece.

There are so many ways to find joy even when you are dealing with difficult topics or tense group dynamics. In a recent interview with Facilitating XYZ, a highly recommended resource site for facilitators, I answered a question about three words I would use to describe facilitation. The three words I came up with were:

  • connection
  • movement
  • insights

I just “fished” them out of my head from somewhere. Today I am going describe what I mean with those words. I will talk about how these three words embody the essence of joy for me. I will also describe and show you three tools in the blog (and videos!) to help you create connection, forward movement and lasting insights in your meetings and facilitated workshops.

Joy arises most often for me in three stages:

      1. When I am talking with the client or participants to uncover their needs
      2. Planning the agenda with the client and a co-facilitator
      3. Facilitating the group


The first word, connection, applies to all three parts of planning your agenda, talking with the client, and delivering the agenda. It is a key first thing you must do as a facilitator. You have to connect with what the client is trying to tell you about their needs. You have to connect with that person/people as client(s). That requires a lot of empathy, deep listening, and skillful ability to summarize what you hear and sense. Recently a new client contacted me about a difficult situation they were facing. At the end of the conversation I asked what had changed for him? And he said, “I feel like I just had a counseling session”. And I said, “Oh, is that good?” And he said, “Yes, actually I feel much more calm and peaceful about the whole situation.” And that feedback gave me joy. To know that I was able to help this person simply by listening, normalizing their situation as something that is quite common, and giving them a few ideas to think about so they could make some wise choices in moving forward. It absolutely didn’t matter to me whether I was chosen for the job. The joy came in helping a fellow human being resolve something that has been troublesome for awhile.

When you are creating connection, you need to think about very specific tools and processes that help you connect with the participants, help participants connect to each other, and to the topic. The connection needs to happen not only before you arrive in the room, virtual or face-to-face, but also immediately upon beginning your agenda. If you set the stage for connection at the very beginning of your meeting, everything else will go better. That can give joy to not only you but also the participants. At the very least, they will feel intrigued about what is going to happen next. Here is one tool for helping people do that.

Connection Tool:

Have photos or cards with words on them at the front of the room. As people enter, ask each person to choose one card or photograph that appeals to them. When you start the meeting, have everyone introduce themselves with the card and this question, “Tell us a little bit about why you chose the word card or photo image and how it relates to a gift (skill, knowledge, attitude) you might bring to this meeting today?”

Why does this help create connection? It taps into their creative and logical thinking and has them sharing from the heart a little more than usual. It also invites them to think about how they are uniquely qualified to offer something valuable to this meeting. It connects them to the participants and the topic. It connects you as the facilitator to the participants because they realize you are going to take care of their souls and spirits in this meeting.


I think I chose this word because as I think about preparing and facilitating. It’s always about moving people one step forward. Maybe you can only get them to move a tiny bit. But everything you are thinking about doing for this group, has to lead to movement. They have called upon you as the facilitator to help them make progress.

When you’re talking with the client you help them move forward by knowing what questions to ask and how to sequence them. I always use the ToP Focused Conversation for that. There are many other dialogue tools available for this as well. When you are planning the agenda, you deliberately design moments when the group is physically moving. This will improve their clarity and richness of thinking in generating new ideas. In creating the agenda and delivering it, you make sure that each new activity or topic is related to the previous one and there is a connection between each piece of your agenda. Each piece progressively moves the group’s thinking toward some kind of resolution.

Movement Tool:

A tool I use to get physical movement into the meeting is the World Café. You can do a search on this but here is an easy format I use (it is likely a slight adaptation of the traditional cafe). Give each table group a different question related to the most important topics of the meeting. Give the first group about 10 minutes to brainstorm ideas around the topic question. They are writing their ideas on a flip chart sheet. Ensure that one person from each table group stays behind to bring the new group up to speed on that question. Everybody else moves to a new table question. After the second round, have a different person stay behind to bring the next group up to speed. That way, not everybody has to stay at one table for the entire session. You might do three or four rounds of this. Then the first group returns to their original topic table. They summarize the notes from every group’s visit. Then get a short report back. I’ve done this in as little as 30 to 45 minutes. I think with the regular team meeting, you could probably do it in 20 to 30 minutes. It might be a very refreshing way to do your team updates on different aspects of a complicated project.

There is great joy and energy in this activity because people are connecting to the topic, connecting to each other, making real progress and moving their thinking forward. And, they are actually keeping their bodies physically moving by moving from table to table and leaning over the table adding drawings and words to their assigned flip chart.


This is probably where I get the greatest joy in facilitation. It happens certainly in the earlier stages of talking to the client, and creating the agenda. But the most joy happens for me when I see insights arising within the group. That is when I know the process of facilitation has worked beautifully, i.e, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. They have discovered something new. Not only have they moved forward, but they have a whole new way of thinking about something that has confounded them for a long time. That’s when I call insight. For those of you who do insight meditation, you’ll know the joy of getting an insight!!

Insights Tool:

A listening technique I use is one I learned from Nanci Luna Jiménez, called Constructivist Listening. When you listen carefully with your full attention to another person talk, that person often has insights. You can use this tool in pairs or in groups of three or four. Simply give them a question to answer. Then each person shares their raw thinking on this question. Give them enough time to let their thinking wander. It might be as long as 3 to 5 minutes. Use a timer. As soon as the timer goes off, that speaker is finished. And you set the ground rules for it so that everybody knows that time is up when the timer goes off. Then the next person answers the question without referring to anything the first person said. One of the rules is that it is confidential listening. When a person knows their thinking will NOT be challenged or argued with, they are more likely to be freer and gain insights as they speak. So knowing that the next person is not going to “beat up” your idea or question or anything you said, is liberating. When it your turn to speak, you simply start fresh with your own thinking. The confidentiality and the timer create a level of safety that is not usually available in most group conversations. When it is all over, group members each share one thing that they said in their OWN session that might contribute to addressing the topic or problem. People can ask permission to affirm something someone else said. The rule is if you are given permission by that speaker to refer to something they said, you cannot negate or criticize what they said.

This activity creates joy because it really releases the heart and the brain to speak together. The listening is profound and respectful, and it creates connection and insight simultaneously.

We have a free download here on this Constructivist Listening technique.

Remember we can always find the joy in every aspect of the facilitation. Practice finding joy. Here is a quote from Joseph Campbell: “Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.”


Free facilitation tips!

Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.

Leave a Comment