Facilitation is a fancy word for helping.

The best people to improve any work are the people who actually do it on a day to day basis.  But they do need some help.

I’m not so keen on experts – the whole tribe of people who know better than anyone else and are keen to keep their trade secrets to themselves.

Their motivation is sometimes commercial.  How much better to have a culture of dependency when you’re selling your services.  You can sell the same thing to the same organisations time and time again.  These people may have heard of the old age Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, give him a net and he’ll feed himself for a lifetime.  But they certainly don’t live that particular wisdom.

Then again, their motivation is sometimes professional or even psychological.  How much better to have that glow of superiority and be indispensable – the black belt, the guru.  If these people have ever heard of the cliché the graveyards are full of indispensable people they’ve forgotten it.

No, the most productive way to get systematic improvement into an organisation is through helping the people doing the work in it.

So this is the facilitator’s tale.

For a whole raft of reasons, this is the only one of our six tales that is a composite portrait of what is by and large a heroic and talented type.

As I said in the chief executive’s tale the good stuff is never easy.

That’s why facilitating improvement is challenging – whether it’s the consultant helping to transfer skills into the organisation (don’t hire them for any other reason) or the internal facilitator supporting people in the organisation.

There is an approach that says all this stuff is not about personality or people, but about system and process.

My answer to that is the old cliché Yes but…

Yes but because no matter the fair wind that a new endeavour has (chief executive’s, management team’s support, whatever), the first time people encounter this new way of working almost anywhere in an organisation it’s going to need Oomph! to make it work.

What I mean by Oomph! is what a good facilitator can deliver and what you must test before you train them and let them loose.

A good facilitator IS

  • a risk taker
  • competitive
  • intolerant of mistakes
  • assertive and confident
  • good at influencing people
  • enthusiastic
  • imaginative
  • idealistic
  • persuasive
  • good with words
  • fun and can entertain people.

BUT can be

  • intimidating at times
  • resentful of anyone wasting their time
  • disorganised.

and tends NOT TO BE

  • patient
  • conservative
  • careful before they take decisions
  • analytical
  • logical
  • a perfectionist.

And of course underlying all this they need to get it, to understand or be capable of understanding the lean/systems approach.

It’s a pretty formidable list and some of the characteristics may seem counter-intuitive.  But if you get a facilitator like this you’re flying.

I’ve probably never met (or hired) a facilitator with a 100% match to these skills but it’s also amazing how often the best turn out to have a 90-95% fit.

And if you’re recruiting your facilitators it’s amazing where you’ll find them.

They’re not necessarily the obvious professional high flyers with significant public sector experience.  Some of the best facilitators I’ve worked with in the public sector have come from backgrounds as diverse as the airline industry, the voluntary sector, retailers, sales training and the clerical office.

I hope you recognise facilitators like this who feature in my other five tales of redemption through improvement.

When you find them cherish them!

This is the last of this short series of “tales of redemption through improvement at work”.  It will be followed next week by a round-up of what I’ve learnt from the fantastic people I’ve described over the last few weeks.