Are you respecting your sacred facilitation tools?


I’ve had several conversations with colleagues about how and when to share various facilitation frameworks, techniques and tools. I was deeply moved also by the care and respect that I witnessed recently from an indigenous group of their own tools. For example, they were very intentional about ensuring they were emotionally and mentally aligned with their drums, pipes, with everyone in the room, and with life itself, e.g., water ceremony. They had someone assigned to look after all of the physical tools such as their community drum, and container for the drum, tobacco and smudging materials. It encouraged me to think about how we treat our facilitation tools, both physical and intellectual. Then one of my dear colleagues asked me when I felt safe enough to share a facilitation methodology with another colleague or group? For example, this colleague says they feel quite protective of the tools they’ve been taught and has not wanted to teach others for fear that they might misuse the tools inadvertently or out of sheer ignorance.

The overall question then is: are we treating our facilitation tools with sacred (utmost) respect?

Here are a few questions for us to ponder about our tools:

  1. Who gave you this tool, i.e. who gave you the gift of this tool? Is it someone who you trust? Is it someone who is extremely competent with this tool?
  2. How did you receive the tool? Did you have curiosity and excitement in seeing it used or seeing its relevance to a client job that you are going to do in the near future? Is it something that you can receive gracefully and respectfully at this moment in time and take enough time to get to know it?
  3. What was your first experience in using the tool? Did you get some guidance from a mentor on when and how to use it? Did you accurately reflect on where the tool worked well and where it didn’t work well after the first few times of using it?

Here is what I think my colleague meant about being protective of a tool without having decades of experience attached with using them…

These tools have been beautifully created generally by a group of thoughtful, experienced facilitators. It’s not up to us to change them from the way they were originally meant to be used. This honour of changing how we use a tool that has been given to us should only come after many, many sessions of using them and watching how they work for us and the groups we facilitate.

Too often I’ve seen new facilitators and even experienced ones get excited about a new tool without honouring it. They grab it and use it without much use or thought. They don’t know the depth of the tool. They don’t know where it came from it. They don’t know exactly how it was meant to be used. When we do that, and I include myself in that category, we dishonour our role and responsibility as facilitators and we dishonor the group.

Here is an ideal way that I am thinking about for the correct and respectful use of our sacred facilitation tools. It is coming from having watched indigenous ceremonial use of tools, from watching how my mentors create and use them, and how I have experienced receiving them in a training.

  1. Ideally prepare yourself mentally for any facilitation training that you take where you’ll be learning new techniques and tools.
  2. Ask yourself, “How would I like to be as they are being taught to me?” Calm yourself and be really present. Take good notes. Watch exactly how they are demonstrated. Think about images that go with this tool. Receive it as you would a beautiful gift.
  3. Next, write out a script for yourself about how you would use this tool and why it will work well for this particular scenario.
  4. Practice the script with someone who knows the tool. Get some feedback on little subtleties in applying the tool.
  5. It would be ideal to co-facilitate using the tool for the first time with someone who has used it also. Find out afterwards with your colleague what they noticed or observed in how you used the tool.
  6. Go back and re-write your script or make some notes on your timing, your props you used, how you would organize it or deliver it differently. Practice making your instructions exceptionally clear.
  7. Do not assume that this tool is “just like” another tool you use, with a few minor changes. Perhaps those little changes make all the difference. Learn why and how those changes make a difference.

The last point I’ll make is about physical tools. The above series of questions and tips relate to an activity that is not physically tangible. But often with these intellectual activities you will need some physical props. One of the things I loved (putting this in past tense since I’m not facilitating nearly as much as I used to) was the care I took to pack the physical tools I needed to deliver the intellectual tool/activity. For example, I made sure my markers were color coded in different bags if I need a lot of colors. I have colleagues that have beautiful cloth bags for each type of prop or tool. I have used different coloured folders with the instructions written out for each activity. Having your physical tools in good working order and organized so you can find them quickly makes a difference in how your technique/tool will work.

My last words are, again, treat your tools like sacred objects. When used well, they will make a vast difference as to how impactful the time with your group might be.


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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.

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