The 9 (Inner) Disciplines of the Facilitator


Last week, at an IAF sponsored workshop, my colleagues Jackie Chang from Taiwan, Kevin Xu from China and myself co-designed and delivered our workshop on the “Being of the Facilitator” in Guangzhou, China. One of the resources that we thought would be helpful was called “The Nine Disciplines of a Facilitator” by Jon and Maureen Jenkins. See resources below. I’ve had this book on my shelf  for a long time and loved the title. But never really studied it until now. 

Yet, as Kevin and I thought about how to translate the word “disciplines”, we realized that it wasn’t an easy concept. He was using the word “rules” – i.e., the nine rules of the facilitator. I was thinking of disciplines as practices or the inner ways of knowing and being that you assume in the role of a neutral process facilitator. They are also possibly qualities to cultivate. 

The word rules was not incorrect in that it was something you had to discipline yourself to do. It is also a habit to cultivate. I leave you to ponder what is the right way to define ways of knowing and being of the facilitator. Please let us know what other words you might use to describe the disciplines of the facilitator.

But now, let me share briefly the framework and model that we illustrated in this workshop sourced from Jon and Maureen’s book. 

The photo below shows the nine disciplines categorized into three categories. 

The first three disciplines are about how you work with others. They include: detachment, focus, and engagement. 

The next three are how you work with yourself. They include listening to your own interior counsel, having a sense of wonder at everything that arises within the group, and having intentionality around growing yourself. .

The third level of disciplines include how you work with life itself. These three disciplines include: awareness – both inner and outer, presence, and focused action. They take you towards the resolution of the previous six disciplines. The letters below each discipline are my best guess at which of the IAF certification competencies, to which each discipline relates.

Below is a brief description in a nutshell of each of the nine disciplines.  Please read the book to know more.

Detachment: Stepping Back 
You need nothing at all from your group. 

Engagement: Committing to the Group 
Know people and create bonds with them. 

Focus: Willing One Thing 
Focus on this moment, this situation, and your whole self. 

Interior Counsel: Choosing Your Inner Advisors Wisely
Choose the voices inside your head that will help you the most. 

Intentionality: Aligning the Will to Succeed
Develop mental toughness and see your challenges as opportunities to improve.

Sense of Wonder: Maintain the Capacity to Be Surprised
Experience awe and have a sense of wonder. 

Awareness: Knowing What is REALLY Going On
Be sensitive to what is happening around you and inside you and how the inner and outer interact. 

Action: Effective Doing
Select what you can achieve and then think how it can be done.   

Presence: Inspiring and Evoking Spirit
Inspire spirit in others and care deeply for individuals, groups and societies. 

After we explored many models and concepts about the being of the facilitator, we also summarized our understanding. Here is our draft list of qualities to cultivate to ensure meaningful and authentic connection with our participants. They include “being”… warm, friendly, courageous, helpful, inspiring, peaceful, relaxed, quiet, powerful, easeful, invisible, like water – soft and flowing, and having the ability to “change state”. 

Not all of these qualities are needed every time. The next time you facilitate a group, ask yourself, “What qualities does the group need from me? Do they need me to be sharp and focused, calm and peaceful? Or engaging, witty and affirming of all that they bring to the table?” My insight is that we need to be very intentional about our being. It can make all the difference in helping a group make a breakthrough.


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. Larry Philbrook on November 27, 2019 at 12:13 am

    Love the graphics. I wish I had known you were doing this i could have shared a Chinese version i have used a few times for forums and colleague dialogue
    I agree this is a great way to deepen the dialogue on what is means to serve and what it means to struggle to serve. We also shared a sshort exercise for each. If you want this or want to share it with those who attended I am glad to share it.

    • Mala Bali on November 27, 2019 at 2:32 am

      Hi Barbara,
      The graphics are simple and effective. Do you think the words rules, disciplines and qualities reflect cultural biases in our mental models?

      Hi Larry,
      Would love to know about the short exercise you are mentioning.
      Thank you for sharing


  2. Patricia R Nunis on November 27, 2019 at 4:03 am

    Thank you Barbara and Larry. This is an area which I am also exploring initially for self and planning to share it with others in time.

Leave a Comment