We Are a Community! Keys to Thriving as a Facilitator


Today, I’m going to blog about community. I’ve been surrounded by community for the last few weeks. It has come up in conversations I’ve had with colleagues. Even in the course we taught last week, there was a sense that the group needed to create a community of facilitators to practice with and share lessons learned from facilitated meetings. So let’s talk about community. It seems like this topic will resonate with any of the stages from 5 onwards. I chose stage 8 however, i.e., the burnout/ fatigue/ confusion stage because if you are at this stage, this blog may be particularly helpful to you.

In case you do not know about the 9 stages of the facilitator, you can click on the green circle with stage on it in any of our blogs, and it will direct you to the blog that writes about the stages including a free download to assess where you are as a facilitator.

One of the key things I hear from some of my colleagues both independent facilitators and in-house organizational development consultants, is that they say they feel alone. It is so important to not feel alone in this work because it is complex and sensitive.  I realize that my facilitator communities have sustained me for many decades now. They have made me a better, MUCH better facilitator.

What does a community of facilitators look and sound like, how does one go about creating one, and could you apply this concept to any group of people that you’re trying to work with in a connected, meaningful way? Let’s explore that here!

My experience with communities of facilitators

Over the last few decades, I have belonged to the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) community, the ToP Network of facilitators globally, in Canada, and in the US. I have formed several facilitator cohorts – one in person on the West Coast of the US and Canada and one virtual, international one. The first was in 2009-2014 and the recent one is for 2017–2019, maybe with interesting follow-up connections in 2020. I also created a network of facilitators to co-learn and work together in Winnipeg, Manitoba from 1995-2001. A colleague of mine invited me to join a Portland, Oregon based community of peer facilitators when I first moved to the USA in 2002. We still meet monthly, and we still have a one day annual retreat which we co-design and co-facilitate. I am part of a community of international facilitators writing a book called, The Power of the Facilitation. None of us expect to earn any money from this project. It is simply a way of giving back to the world.

I am forever grateful to all the communities of facilitators to which I belong. So that is five different communities I belong to now just for facilitators. I find it surprising, but I probably know more than I realize about how to create and sustain facilitator communities. I’d like to share some of that practical knowledge here because I know it is so important in the work we do. It also might be helpful to you if you are about to form, join or refresh an IAF chapter group somewhere in the world.

What, ideally is a GREAT community of facilitators?

This is from my mum’s 90th birthday where we celebrated as a family community.

In a great community, people know each other both personally and professionally. We share and celebrate milestones in our lives. We connect to each other on a regular basis. We support each other in challenges we face around facilitation. We listen non judgmentally to the places where it gets difficult because of our own habitual patterns that no longer serve us well as facilitators. We remind each other that we are good enough. We help each other remember that we did the best we could when things don’t go as well as we hoped. We reach out to each other in every way we can. We feel compelled to be generous and share our latest learnings if asked to do so. We become caring, generous, compassionate, skillful in helping groups work through very large complex issues. We know we are not alone in this and then we can turn to a supportive colleague at any given moment when we are stuck on how to proceed with the group. That is my description of the ideal state of a community of facilitators. What is yours?

How do you create such a community?

I was just talking about this with a colleague in our current international cohort. And together, in our respective communities, we realized we had both been very intentional about the need for everyone to feel informed, to trust each other, and feel safe to make mistakes toward each other and in front of each other. So that means not rushing into action right away.

Here are some keys I would say I’ve used in creating the last four to five facilitator communities.

* Start slowly. Help people get to know each other. Make sure they have a photo of each other if you cannot meet in person, or that you use video chatting on a regular basis. Give them time to interact with each other on a one to one basis. That might mean putting them in virtual or F2F (Face to Face) breakout groups to share personal stories or to answer personal questions. Reiterate the rules of safety and confidentiality. You might want to use Constructivist Listening which we’ve talked about in earlier blogs (reminder video in resources section below).

* Ask each group member what they would like to contribute. Keep noticing where they are strong and ask them to share these strengths with other group members. Keep giving each other really nonjudgmental, positive but correcting things to do around facilitation competencies. This would be especially true if it’s designed as a learning community. Invite all members to do this but if you are the leader, you might try to model mostly consistent positive appreciative comments and the occasional helpful correction.

* Design a community that people know they are joining for the long term. It might be a few years or it might be a decade or more. Ask people to commit to the longer time frame if they are able to. It doesn’t help to have people show up only once or twice a year. You need to ask people to commit to showing up regularly. If some members cannot do that, help them find other ways to connect maybe via social media chat groups like What’s App. The group needs to know that those who attend infrequently are indeed still connected and thinking about them. Ask these group members to share what’s going on for them if they cannot attend regularly. This way, there can be compassion and empathy and not judgment towards that person.

* Ultimately it’s not magic or rocket science. Feel free to innovate, try new things, be transparent. All of these things will help whether you are the leader or a group member. Remember not to give up on your community. Commit to your community your full ability. Your being there is important . People notice when you do not show up. There may be many reasons why you decide to isolate yourself, stop communicating, and stop showing up. But ultimately it will break a long term destructive pattern if you commit to being part of a community. Isolating from others is also a societal pattern and behaviour especially in North America and Europe. The belief often is that “we don’t belong to community”. I would say, you do belong; you have always belonged. Never forget that.  And, there will still be a need to end a group commitment sometimes. When there is a natural ending for you or for the group, celebrate your closure together.

* In the resources below is lovely article about community. It was one of the many prompts for me to write this article. My husband sent it to me.
Ultimately when we form community we become better human beings. Being in community for a very specific purpose (in our case, it is to grow as facilitators to do the essential work we do in our organizations and communities) makes this planet, society and world a hugely better place for all regardless of our backgrounds and our differences. That’s why community is important to me.

What are your thoughts: How have you formed community? What have been some of your successes? Where has it been easy? Where has it been hard? What would you recommend to keep a community going and connected with each other?


Article: How to make friends, build a community, and create the life you want

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 Comment

  1. Craig Freshley on June 2, 2022 at 9:43 am

    Thanks for another great post Barbara!
    Say, do you know of any in-person facilitation conferences coming up? Places where facilitators can get together and learn from each other?
    I have been to three IAF conferences in the past and found each one so helpful.
    Thank you for sharing so much with us, Barbara, including your thoughts about the value of community.

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