Reading recommendations for facilitators

August 02, 2017 | Blog Admin | Methods & Tools |


Rating: 4.7 out of 5

NadiaThere is no shortcut in learning to facilitate. The best teacher is practice followed by observation and reflection through peer exchange, trainings and reading. Facilitation is creative work. Every workshop is an invitation to build anew the reflection and conversation space for participants to explore, learn and understand. This blog post presents three books for facilitators, beginners as well as experienced facilitators; they provide insights and ideas for planning and designing successful workshops

Nadia von Holzen, Learning Moments

You want to learn to facilitate? Just do it! Be the facilitator. Start as co-facilitator with an experienced facilitator at your side. I am convinced that the best teacher is practice followed by observation and reflection (see also the blog post Dare to facilitate).

There are some great and helpful books around; I personally prefer the one written by practioners. I put my nose into a facilitation book when I need ideas and inspiration. The following three books are part of my personal facilitation library:


Marvin Weisbrod and Sandra Janoff (2007). Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There! Ten Principles for Leading Meetings that matter.

This little book is a real treasure. It reflects the role and work of a facilitator and offers basic principles for facilitating successful workshops. The important work done by a facilitator starts before the meeting takes place. During the preparation and design phase, the facilitator prepares what can be prepared (e.g. defining container and conditions for interaction); and is aware of what cannot be prepared nor controlled (participants’ motives, behaviour, and attitudes.) This booklet is also about being the facilitator, of “standing there” and being at the service of the group.

You have the most leverage on a meeting’s success before a single person walks in to the room.
Marvin Weisbrod and Sandra Janoff


Sam Kaner with Lenny Lind, Catherine Toldi, Sarah Fisk, and Duane Berger (2014). Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making. 

This book is a classic among the many facilitation books on the market; it provides fundamental insights backed with examples and practical tips of how groups think and manage to create a shared framework of understanding as basis for taking joint decisions.

Keeping the fundamentals of group thinking and collaboration processes in mind leads to better designed workshops; and helps the facilitators deal with challenging situations. Furthermore, it gives advice on how facilitators can support groups to manage themselves and build a participatory culture of collaboration.

Building a shared understanding is a struggle, not a platitude.
Sam Kaner with Lenny Lind, Catherine Toldi, Sarah Fisk, and Duane Berger


Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless (2014). The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash a Culture of Innovation. 

This book (as well as the website) provides a rich collection of small structures (we could also call them methods, rules or set-ups) that structure the discussion and the exchange of group work. The guiding idea behind these liberating structures is to get everyone immediately fully engaged and to transform the way people collaborate, learn, and discover solutions together. There are endless possibilities of combining Liberating Structures. They are applicable to groups of any size. The book provides simple and easy instructions on how to use these structures for different purposes.

Liberating Structures are easy-to-learn microstructures that enhance relational coordination and trust. They quickly foster lively participation in groups of any size, making it possible to truly include and unleash everyone.
Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless

So what?

My personal take-away from the three books:

–> There is no shortcut in learning to facilitate. With years of facilitation experience, I am still learning through every workshop I facilitate. Learning to facilitate happens primarily through practicing facilitation.

–> Understanding groups and how groups reach decisions is essential for designing successful workshops. Facilitation is in the service of the group and of what the group wants and needs to achieve.

–> Every workshop is an invitation to play with structures. The options are endless. As facilitators, we want to build the reflection and conversation space for participants to explore, learn and collaborate. Facilitation is creative work.

What are your favourite books for facilitators?

Remark: For SDC staff members: All three books can be borrowed from the SDC Info-desk in Berne.

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