I’m flying back from Perth, right now. About to write manically, half battery on my laptop. Last night I shared a meal with the guy who replaced me in my old team. He is what I was 6 years ago: A year into facilitation, in love with it, out of love with the job he came from. He gushed, as I did back then, about the joy of helping people learn through discovering it within themselves. He’s discovering that within himself.

The gushing petered out as the food arrived. Cock-eyed, he stared at me for a bit. “You have it figured out, haven’t you?”, he said plainly, without malice.

“What do you mean?” I replied.

“You’re forging a career out of facilitation.”

Well, I’m trying, and this blog has charted some of that growth mindset. Although that takes a relentless focus on developing the self, facilitation success lives in helping connect others. That’s not a condition that breeds competitiveness amongst your peers. That’s a condition that brings about collaboration with them.

I’ve just lodged my paperwork for being a Certified Professional Facilitator. It is the highest facilitation accreditation in the world. It is purely for process facilitation and consists of 50 or so competencies to be benchmarked against. So far it is rigorous and that has just been in recanting the 7 examples I’ve needed to cite in my written submission, lodged a couple of days ago. Still to come is the mock client consultation, design and facilitated session. Masterful facilitators will scrupulously scrutinise it all and share with me what they see, voluntarily. Cool.

CPFs breathe rare air. There are only about 1,000 in the world, if that. I hadn’t heard about it, or the issuing body the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) until I stumbled across a PD event they were running a couple of years back.

The IAF have been wrangling with the issue of how to recognise valid forms of facilitation other than for process (such as training facilitation). On one hand, I get that lots of people call themselves facilitators, when really, they are trainers talking at people. I did for a year or so when I started out. On the other hand, I’ve developed advanced facilitation skills mainly in the training room. No shame for me in that; but to have the opportunity to test myself against the toughest accreditation? I had a choice: do I wait for the IAF to come to me, or do I go to the IAF?

I went to the IAF. For the last 18 months, the competencies of the CPF have guided my development in process facilitation. Those competencies have influenced where I wanted to live, what I wanted out of my work and how I saw myself adding value to others. It is something I haven’t blogged about because it has been my kind of personal odyssey over that time, one I didn’t really think I would actually stick with this far.

At every stage I have felt reticent. There are no CPFs, or even IAF members, where I work. No surprise as the vast majority of CPFs are self-employed.   I was – for years – really comfortable to see my professional self-image built from the feedback of those only from where I work. That time has passed.

I’ve been at the same company for 20 years and every day I ask myself why. My answer to myself is because it is my community. I don’t want to leave, I want to contribute. I want to learn through doing the CPF and share that with my community. I want lots of CPFs where I work. I’m OK to be the first one, but not the only one for long.

Before I saw the CPF framework, I would facilitate process with a narrow range of established models, little preparation and I’d extemporise a lot. When I did prepare, invariably I would use my own models. The competencies have been useful since as a structure for preparation. They have pushed me to use more models, even if sometimes I still bastardise those to feel comfortable with them. They have also given me a tool for structured reflection.   I commonly reflect in a damaging way, so these have helped reduce that.

There are other cool things about the IAF. The website is 1990s kitsch, but behind that is a really rich trove of resources, articles and advice. It will takes years more for me to read, absorb and try out everything there.

Then there are the global conferences. I haven’t been to one yet but I hear stories of them all the time from my comrades in the Victorian Chapter. I’ll go, one day, when I feel I’m close to that world view.  Achieving CPF will help bring that.

Speaking of my comrades, that it the best part about the IAF. I’m on a committee for a foundation chapter. We are formed by incredibly diverse people who care deeply about the art of facilitation and sharing that art with others. We run great professional development events and have big plans. We might even host a global conference ourselves one day. I learn from these people in every interaction. They put up with me and I respect them. When I observe them I can see that doing what I love has a future for me. When I work with them I feel a part of something bigger and I am deeply grateful for that.

You can join the IAF too, and you can go for the CPF. I’ll blog a bit further about my experiences as I go through the rest of the process to find out just how certifiable I am.

Paul Batfay is treasurer of the Victorian Chapter of the IAF in Australia. You can contact the chapter via Twitter at @IAFVic and the regional representative at @IAFOceania.

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