Alison Coward on the Luxury of Facilitation


For some people, facilitation is a means to an end: Getting things done, more in less time. Taking the time to think and talk can seem like a luxury when your team just wants to just "get going". Facilitation, then, becomes like any tool like a drill, or a don't actually want the tool, you want a hole in the wall or a carrot sliced. When you're done with the tool, you go on to the next thing!

But for other people, this space between posing a challenge, thinking, talking and doing, is worth deepening. Facilitation then becomes more than a thing you do to get to the next thing...It becomes a way of being and approaching the world.  Facilitation becomes a core value, a principle.

The problem with facilitation as a means to an end is that facilitating well is a design problem in and of itself, which requires thoughtful work and practice. Focusing on the ends instead of the means, in this case, can cause people to give light consideration to facilitating masterfully. But when the conversation really matters, someone really should design the conversation.

It's really delightful to talk to someone like Alison for whom, like me, facilitation *is* the work...deepening it for ourselves and others is why we do what we do: Not just helping teams as a facilitator, but helping others to develop as facilitators.

Alison is the founder of *Bracket*, a consultancy based in the UK. She helps teams at companies of all stripes to work better together. She's also written a lovely book  “A Pocket Guide to Effective Workshops”. Alison is also, like me, a workshop geek.

Facilitation is a design skill, and like any design process, each facilitator is going to bring their own assumptions, good and bad, into the process. So it's critical to be self-aware: Why do you make the design choices that you make? Alison is a thoughtful practitioner who helps other facilitators become the same way.

Design is about intention. A facilitator needs to be able to visualize each and every step through the workshop process... What size paper will people be using when and why? What color and thickness of pen?

The sheer number of design choices involved in the process means that facilitators *can* fall into a rut. Finding fresh perspectives and approaches is crucial...which is what this podcast is all about! I hope you enjoy this episode!

We talk about:

  • The importance of making time for silence and reflection in reducing power dynamics and "groupthink"

  • Finding your own unique "stance" as a facilitator

  • The struggle to find purposeful energizers

  • How crucial it is to get people in the room deeply connected with each other's expertise

  • Knowing your workshop's narrative arc


Further Reading:

Richard Florida "The rise of the creative class"

How to Kill Creativity by Teresa Amabile


Gamestorming (of course)


Collective Genius by Linda Hill


the Progress principle by Terese Amabile


Twitter: @alisoncoward


Alison Coward is the founder of *Bracket*, a consultancy helping teams in the creative and technology sector to work better together, with clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to startups. She is a strategist, trainer and workshop facilitator and the author of “A Pocket Guide to Effective Workshops”.

With over 15 years’ experience working in, leading and facilitating creative teams, Alison is passionate about finding the perfect balance between creativity, productivity, and collaboration.