The Honest Truth About My Facilitation Footprint


Today, I want to tell you how my facilitation practice has evolved over 25-30 years. What are the footsteps I have taken and what are the footprints I’ve left behind? How have I evolved in this time?

This is a question that the IAF (International Association of Facilitators) has been asking us to answer for “Facilitation Week” starting on October 16. You will see a short video briefly highlighting key events in my facilitation career including a great easy technique I used when I first started out. In the written part of the blog below, I add a bit more detail about how the journey went for me as it may help you put your own facilitator and life journey into perspective. There are many ups and downs but when you are completely passionate about the work you do as a professional facilitator, nothing can set you back for very long.

First of all, be forewarned, most of us have no plan. But when you get a chance to look back over more than a quarter century of data, you do see some very distinct patterns and chapters in this history.

See if you can also find some of the 9 stages of becoming an excellent facilitator within my story. Blogs and free handout on the stages are available to you in the Resources section below.

Let’s hop into the time machine and go back to 1980!

1980-1995 – Seeds Planted

I got my first taste of what a facilitator does, while doing my Master of Science degree in Resource Management program in New Zealand. I was asked to facilitate a meeting between my Master’s class and an organization called the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development or OECD. At the end of that session to review the financial status of New Zealand, one of the members of the OECD from Canada said, “When you come back to Canada, look me up. I can give you a job”. That gave me a clue that planted the seed that grew slowly over the next 15 years. I had a clue that it was possible the skills I had exhibited in that meeting were something people would pay for! And I really enjoyed facilitating that meeting.

My husband, Joe and I went through a lot of things coming back from New Zealand – it was a struggle. My first two jobs were in the environmental and energy consulting fields. Then my next job focused on social and economic research related to environmental impact assessment work.It was challenging for me to do this as we were raising a young family. Eventually I quit the consulting job to start my current business in 1995. As noted in the video at the end of the blog, I drew a timeline of my life up until 1995. Through this process, I noticed every “happy face” moment, I was doing something that involved bringing different people together to solve complex problems. See blog link below on “One Stop Shopping Tool” for more on this technique. We also have another video coming out for facilitation week that gives a great overview of the ToP Historical Scan timelining method.

1995-2001 – No Turning Back!

That timeline technique really helped me see that becoming a process facilitator was an important journey to take. At the beginning, I had no idea whether I could succeed financially in a career that was little known and certainly not considered to be something people for which would pay. Yet, after three years of making exactly the same income in a row at an fulfilling income level goal I had set for myself, I asked “why shouldn’t I just raise that income goal?” The moment I did, my income increased by 50%.

It was at that time, after several trial and errors, that I discovered it was extremely useful to me to have a partner to help me with the tasks that I wasn’t very good at and actually disliked doing. You can see more about how this works for us now in this other video blog about my current colleague Errin in the Resources section. I spent most of this period learning and practicing the Technology of Participation (ToP) methods and framework and infused this with Neuroscience and Non Violent Communication methods.

2002-2004 – Argh! A Painful Restart

What happens when you move countries at the height of an economic recession? It is a lot of hard work. I was quite depressed when I first arrived with no work visa, no connections, no existing facilitator community, and no idea how the USA culture really worked. Even though I’d been a USA neighbor all of my life, I realized only after moving, that our two countries were completely different from a political, economic, social and spiritual perspective. I had to learn to modify my language, speak differently, and be bewildered by several clients firing me within the first few years of getting my practice going. It was also the time I became a CPF (Certified Professional Facilitator) with the IAF and an assessor of CPFs. Those were very positive moments in this deep and dark time.

2005-2008 – Depth and Growth!

This was a time of incredible learning and growth. I was working with a cultural competency colleague predominately. This vastly increased my understanding of diversity and inclusion principles and behaviors to put into practice. Also, I was now more comfortable facilitating in my new country. I was getting a lot of work, recognition and starting to present more and more at different conferences.

This is also when I started my “facilitator cafes”. This was the beginning of creating passive income. Passive income is where things get sold “while you sleep” so to speak. After each monthly seminar I held in my home office, I would finalize the handout and upload it to my website. I did this consistently for five years and came up with about 45 facilitator tool modules. I have since totally revamped and changed the look of these modules. And, they still sell and provide modest amounts of passive income each month to this day. My main objective was just getting out practical “how to” guides for people who are facilitating but who don’t have access to good training.

2008-2013 – Economic and Physical Pain, Feels Like a “Hostile Take-Over”

Here came a long period of what one might call the “trough” and where the nightmare part of the journey began for me. I had reached a high level of competency and income. Then the economic recession hit in late 2008. My colleagues and I lost a lot of work. In January 2009, I started a diversity cohort project which was an amazingly daring and gratifying diversity and inclusion project for me (more about this in resources section below). In hindsight, I don’t know what I would’ve done without this incredible group of colleagues given what was going to happen next.

I had a devastating car accident in 2009 which on the surface seemed slight but resulted in massive headaches on a 24/7 basis for three years without stop. I could not facilitate by myself as it was painful to scribe, move tables and chairs, and hang sticky walls. By the end of the day I was usually a sobbing mess. The diversity cohort members often helped me get through these days. It was this period of history that caused me to formulate my own policy to never or rarely facilitate by myself. This has been a good policy for me and I recommend it to others.

I lost a lot of confidence in myself. I definitely felt incompetent. And as a result I began to feel terrified about doing jobs. That in turn resulted in ambivalence about ever facilitating again. Luckily in 2013, I turned to virtual facilitation and trusted colleagues to help me deal with this ambivalence. It gave me a great deal of joy to learn a way that would reduce my ecological carbon footprint as a facilitator and trainer.

2014-2017 – Rebirth, Stillness and Joy

The last four years have involved a lot of traveling to Asia to do conference presentations and learn from my Asian colleagues. I’ve also kept up my interest in developing virtual online facilitation training. I am ready to launch a new global diversity cohort. I take on jobs that are difficult but fascinating to me. I work with many of the original 2009 cohort members and other ToP colleagues. Errin still works with me after almost 12 years. This all gives me great joy and ease in working. I don’t know what comes next but here’s what I’m calling my future chapter.

2018-2022 – Giving Back and Back and Back


What has been my footprint as a facilitator?

I have roughly co-facilitated over 275 different organizations from all sectors mainly in Canada and USA. This likely means I have helped about 10,000 individuals solve challenges or plan for the future. And, I have co-facilitated over 100 multi-day and conference facilitation trainings to about 5000 individuals around the world. Plus I have been mentoring many. Hopefully, this has resulted in them facilitating another several hundred thousand people in all sectors. That starts to feel like a big facilitator footprint. Changing the world, one group at a time. That makes me feel good!

How are you evolving and what footprint will you leave behind? Share your stories so others can be encouraged!


Free Download: 9 Stages of an Excellent Process Facilitator

Blog: The One Stop Shopping Tool

Blog: The 7 Stage Facilitation Journey – Which One Are You On?

Blog: My Secret Recipe for More Time, Money and Fun in Facilitation

Webpage Link: Facilitation Cohort

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.


  1. Tia Ribary on October 3, 2017 at 5:13 pm

    Beautiful footprints from a beautiful person. (Even though it’s painful at times!) I can see a lot of similarity from my own life and career and I’ll bet many others do too. It’s a good reminder that we all have ups, downs, sinking lows and awesome highs. Helps put things in perspective. Thank you for sharing this and for the great seeds you are planting in the world!

    • Barbara MacKay on October 18, 2017 at 7:07 pm

      Tia – so good to know it resonated with you. Yes – life and our careers are such tumultuous journeys. So glad to have you as part of my journey.

    • Barbara Mackay on October 19, 2017 at 9:41 am

      Tia – so good to know it resonated with you. Yes – life and our careers
      are such tumultuous journeys. So glad to have you as part of my journey.

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