If you asked a business leader what they look for in a facilitator, what would they say to you?


On Wednesday 25 May 2016, the IAF Oceania facilitation conference started.  To get it to that point took a lot of people contributing whatever they could.  A major contribution from the IAF Oceania Region representative, Nick Housego, was to arrange an industry panel of senior business leaders for the opening session.  The theme was “Facilitation from a Client’s Perspective.”  Here is a consolidation* of the key points made by the panel, organised into three sections:  pitching for work, preparatory consulting and session success.


Pitching for work

  • Business leaders look for facilitators who aren’t afraid of dealing with fear, conflict and differing values.
  • The profession of facilitation has lived off word of mouth for a while. For government procurement, to be a supplier you get on a panel. This saves repetitive tender processes.  In determining who should be on that panel, they look for a certain set of skills and experience, and consider how the risk of something going wrong will be mitigated.
  • The typical question from a business leader to a facilitator is ‘what do you facilitate’? So maybe have some business cases and highlighting of awards to help the promotion of your own stories and of the profession.
  • When a CEO of a small organisation looks for a facilitator, they know they can jump on the internet. Regarding age, younger generations don’t have the wisdom or experience, but they have the knowledge.
  • Within big organisations, senior leaders tend to look internally first for reasons such as speed to engage, familiarity with internal process & culture and cost.
  • There is a role for a facilitator to go into an organisation for a significant period and help with a wider problem. To do this, facilitation needs to be an accompanying skill. It would be compelling for a facilitator to evolve into a change navigator; also to bring direct customers of the business into the room.
  • The big push in NGOs or government departments is for collaboration. There is opportunity to connect organisations and industries to bring themselves closer, e.g. for domestic violence support. That type of facilitation is probably more challenging.


Preparatory consulting

  • A facilitator needs to deliver on the basics, like gaining clarity on who needs to be at the session, and what perspectives they bring. This needs to be a major focus in the preparation.
  • When an in-house facilitator is engaged to run a session, the issues of status and the associated power dynamics in the organisation can prevent the facilitator successfully achieving true concensus. This needs to be weighed up in the group process design and in the original decision to go with an in-house facilitator.
  • When consulting with a client in the preparatory phase, break the problem down for them. Give them some options to the client, against some set criteria. Then test these options against some divergent views.
  • A facilitator who can see their role in the bigger picture and be able to educate their client will be more successful. For instance, if it is a wicked problem being dealt with, is there an alternative way other than facilitation? So this becomes a mix of performance consultancy and business acumen: a facilitative consultant.
  • Sharing a code of ethics is useful as a discussion document in the facilitation consulting phase.


Session success

  • Facilitation is about trust, engagement and a safe environment and where people can express themselves.
  • Deep value is achieved when the facilitator ensures diverse thinking can come into session tasks like process design. This requires a combination of touch & experience on the facilitator’s behalf and is accessed by getting people to think in a constraint-free way.
  • You are always going to have some reserved reluctance in the room, and still have a form of agreement. Consensus is a much stronger form of agreement with no real opposition and general support. Within this, large-scale projects need to have change dynamics attended to as well.
  • Some localised cultures mean consensus is harder to achieve; for instance, where people nod in agreement because a senior leader is present. If a facilitator can’t spot that dynamic in the group and work to override it, it can mean delays to a change implementation due to a whole lot of other meetings needing to take place.
  • Regarding a desire in facilitators to challenge the norm: it means the facilitator needs to create a space where everyone in the room can be heard, and where people will trust that. The success of challenging the norms comes back to the facilitator understanding the audience; this is critical.
  • An organisation has to be able to take their best people off-line, with a mix of skills represented, for a facilitated session to be worthwhile.
  • To allow for a safe environment and to access the introverts, let people know in advance that they will be asked a question.
  • Big organisations now should expect their leaders to role model an absence of intellectual hierarchy.


* As a member of the organising committee, I’d been running around all morning on the first day attending to last-minute odd jobs.  When the panel commenced, I was up the back of the main hall.  Knowing that a lot of insight was about to be shared, I fired up my tablet and tapped away for the next hour.  Normally I would backchannel quotes directly to social media, but in a situation like a panel discussion too much is shared, and it is too fast for accurate tweeting.  So I took long-form notes for repurposing later instead.


Anecdotal feedback from many conference attendees was that the industry panel was their highlight.  The main reason given was that it was so rare to hear a senior business leader’s candid view on facilitation in a business context.  This is why I am sharing the outcomes more broadly.  Out of fairness, those outcomes have not been reproduced here as direct quotes, nor attributed to any one speaker; they are my notes stitched together.

The panel was:

  • Mary Barry (CEO of Our Watch)

Mary Barry

  • Hans Van Daatselaar (Executive Officer, Affiliation of Superannuation Practitioners)

Hans Van Daatselaar

  • Philip Hind (Senior Executive, Australian Taxation Office)

Philip Hind

  • Damon Dermody (EGM, Process Design & Transformation, National Australia Bank)

Damon Dermody


A deep thanks again to the panel for dedicating their time and wisdom, and for playing their part in helping the global facilitation community to be more client-centric.


Paul Batfay is the social media lead for the IAF Oceania facilitation conference that was held from 25-27 May 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.  Paul also works for National Australia Bank (NAB); opinions in this post are not necessarily those of NAB. 

You can find more outcomes from the conference by searching for #IAFMelb on Twitter.

Photo credits:

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Geoff Hurst says:

    Well presented and represented Paul. Thank you for a job well done!

  2. Stephen Berkeley says:

    Excellent initiative and hopefully more IAF conferences world wide will take IAF Oceania’s lead. Great summary Paul. Was it recorded or filmed? Would make a great share. Also fantastic pics.

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