Role leaders
 Role facilitator


Role of the facilitator                                home

"Every time I intervene, I deprive a group member of the chance to do something important." 
Jim Elliott -

As facilitator of a large group, what should I be able to do? How do I deal with difficult people in a conference? What do I do as things do not proceed as planned?

The facilitator makes it possible for other people to work together, to learn and to reach their goals. During a Large Scale Intervention the responsibility for success rests not with the facilitator, but with all participants as a group. This calls for the facilitator assuming a modest and almost imperceptible role and the letting go of an adviser’s or trainer’s perspective. The facilitator does not have the answers to the questions, but asks questions while trying to draw as little attention as possible to him or herself. To a large extent the work is done in small discussion groups that facilitate themselves. Success depends to a significant degree on how carefully the event has been prepared. This is the responsibility of the facilitator shares responsibilities and the preparation team. For good books on facilitating see Tips.

Mike Bell wrote a beautiful article on the role of the facilitator (download here). He compares the role of the facilitator with the role of the group animator, who - like a shaman - goes on shamanic journeys. Sometimes he/she travels inside the group through his/her powers of observation, sensitivity, imagination, the resonance within his/her own spirit and spirituality. Sometimes he/she travels outside the group through his/her research, networking, perhaps even through the use of technology such as the Internet, to visit “strange new worlds”, to seek, learn and understand. He/she then brings back to the group members new understanding and knowledge. This requires self-discipline, commitment, continuous learning and self awareness.

Harrison Owen, the founding father of Open Space, says that the role of the group animator is to “channel spirit” by “holding the space”, being a presence that provides a group-conscious sense of place where whatever is going to happen will happen. Interventions are made in a manner that is consistent with the life-energy force of spirit within the group.

Some guidelines for facilitating a Large Scale Intervention or a Large Group Intervention:


Points of attention

Guidelines and tips

Careful preparation accounts for more than half of the work

  • Be attuned to the culture
  • Allow for shared responsibilities
  • Trust your own preparation
  • Prepare the working room yourself

Working with the design team and sponsor

  • do not give in to the temptation of ignoring principles of LSI (time pressure, focus on the large group event, scepticism about methods); diverse mentalities of participants, explore the context of the issue in time and environment
  • respect the grieving process of managers who have to get used to a different approach
  • clients wants want to see concrete results; describe the outcomes of the process in terms they are familiar with
  • if there is scepticism in the beginning: ask them to be prepared to be surprised, but do not try to convince them
  • demonstrate the principles of LSI in the meetings with the design team; make a time line together, or a mindmap of the process
  • say no if you are not satisfied with the conditions

Facilitative attitude

  • Meditate before the event
  • Your attitude is more important than what you are saying
  • Do not analyse or summarise
  • Avoid saying “I”. Say “You”
  • Avoid being pedantic
  • Use striking metaphors instead of abstract texts or concepts
  • Belief in your own ability to be a good facilitator
  • Do not expect applause if everything went smoothly; most people do not see how much effort went into the intensive preparations

Dealing with conflicts and differences of opinion

  • Do not try to eliminate worries, confusion and pain, but be in touch with them
  • Clarify conflicts, do not resolve them; deep conflicts cannot be resolved instantly, but do however require attention. A flip chart with “unresolved questions” may help
  • Ask questions in order to make statements or concepts more tangible: Could you give an example? How did you notice that? What exactly did you see or hear?


  • Work with what presents itself, not with what should present itself
  • If the energy of the group is low, do not try to motivate people, but ask why energy levels are low and/or do some energisers
  • Let go of your schedule when you notice that other working methods are required


  • Raise powerful questions (see the guide The art of powerful questions)
  • Give clear instructions that go along with the culture, preferably in different manners (by telling, text on paper, images, sound)
  • Invite people to participate
  • Ask somebody to keep an eye on the time, if necessary
  • Work in ‘the here and now’: use real time change as much as possible


Tips facilitating

An outstanding book about leading meetings that matter:


Don't just do something stand there!  (Marvin Weisbord & Sandra Janoff

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