A good facilitator is like a dancer on the stage …

January 22, 2014 | Blog-Admin1 | Methods & Tools |


Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Ernst Bolliger… or do you feel like a monument, a tourist guide, a gardener, a porter when you are acting as a facilitator? What is your preferred metaphor? I am going to explain why I like the metaphor “a good facilitator is like a dancer on the stage” and why I think it is really helpful to better understand the own role at a given moment of a facilitation process.

Ernst Bolliger, Agridea

What exactly is the meaning of facilitation?

In our facilitation trainings we are often asked by participants to clearly define facilitation: “What exactly is the meaning of facilitation?” Instead of a scientific lecture, I always feel invited in such situations to describe a metaphor.

As a native (Swiss) German speaking person I start with the term we use in German to describe the activity of the person that prepares events, introduces speakers, leads discussion with groups, and helps groups to be clear about the outcomes of a meeting: “ModeratorIn”. “Moderating” means – according to the original Latin verb “moderare” – to calm, to bring down emotions to a lower (moderate) level.

If I take the French term “animateur, animatrice”, I come to an opposite meaning. “Animare” – again the Latin term – means to get live in someone or something. “Anima” means soul, so an animator (animateur / animatrice) intends to touch the soul of others.

Finally in English (and in Spanish) the term “facilitator” (facilitadór / facilitadora) is used. The latin term “facilitare” means to make it easy, to support, to ease a situation. This is more on a factual then on an interpersonal level.

What is now a good facilitator?

Should s/he be a moderator, an animator or a facilitator? Should s/he calm, inspire or support? A good facilitator – in my opinion – is a person that knows dancing nicely on the stage between these three positions.

Are we dancer? By Jeremy Hall

A good facilitator is a person that is able to change his/her rhythm and dancing steps according to the music around her/him. A professional facilitator-moderator-animator is able to dance all three dances – in every moment the dance that is appropriate to the situation. Once you have to animate a group that seems to be rather passive; later you might be asked to moderate over-heated discussions; and in a performing phase of a group process, facilitation (in the background) might be the most effective way of leading the group towards the agreed upon objectives.

A professional facilitator is like a dancer on the stage being at ease in (at least) three modes dancing and flexible enough to change from one mode to another in due time.

What kind of facilitator are you?

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Comments to“A good facilitator is like a dancer on the stage …”

  1. Dear Ernst
    I know that in this blog you want to be short and concise to maintain the readers attention – fair enough. I was curious to read your reflection but this time you are simply too short. A metaphor – even if threefold – is not enough. Go on with examples, with your experience or what ever – just give some flesh to this bone…
    Regards from Pretoria

  2. Dear Ernst
    your image is really convincing – I imagined various past facilitation experiences and realised ex-post where I was dancing in which rhythm. thanks for this beautiful input… it will keep me moving :-)

  3. Riff Fullan says:

    Seeing both ends of the ‘continuum’ of reactions represented by Reto and Babette, I can add my quick thoughts: Yes, I believe good facilitation is a balancing act and I also like Ernst’s metaphor. Responding to Reto’s interest in more flesh on the bone, I would say it is also about working with a core group to ensure objectives are clear, that the process is designed to support achieving those objectives, and that ALL people (participants, organisers, sponsors) are respected and given space to contribute.

    Thinking specifically about f2f events, I normally try to encourage (at least) two things: first, that the process is iterative, with later sessions building on earlier ones (but not always in a linear way), and; that methodologies used are highly participatory. After all, why bring people together f2f if most will be sitting listening while only one talks (or shows a PPT)? It is participants’ knowledge, passion and collective thinking that holds the biggest potential for added value.


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