Powerful Facilitation: Three Critical Competencies

You facilitate when you help clarify, negotiate, and resolve differences. It can be a formal role when you are charged with leading others to negotiate system differences. On the other hand, facilitation can be informal. It happens anytime you support another person or group to see beyond their current challenge to find wise action.


Powerful facilitation is a constant dance of questioning and illumination. In this dance, you engage others to:

  • Name their path
  • Identify obstacles in that path
  • Find decisions or choices that inform their action along that path

Facilitation is a complex and challenging task. There are many competencies that describe good facilitation. In today’s world, however, powerful facilitation requires you to support your clients as they navigate the complexity of their systems.

In human systems dynamics (HSD), we see facilitation is an exercise in inquiry. HSD defines “inquiry” in a very specific way. Facilitation, as an inquiry, requires the leader to take intentional steps to:

  • Turn judgment into curiosity
  • Turn disagreement into shared exploration
  • Turn defensiveness into self-reflection
  • Turn assumptions into questions

As a powerful facilitator, you take this stance across all activities of your life. Curiosity allows you to let go of bias. Shared exploration reveals useful leverage points. Self-reflection helps keep your own vulnerabilities separate from the group’s work. Raising questions rather than holding assumptions moves the group forward.

In complex systems, facilitation occurs simultaneously and at multiple levels. Powerful facilitators juggle issues as they emerge for individuals, for the group, and for the greater community. Even more important, they see and understand the interdependence across the system. Individuals’ issues influence the group. Individuals are influenced by the larger body. And this group is interdependent with the greater environment.

Powerful facilitation helps a group build capacity for resilience through responsive action. In 2003, Barabasi named three patterns that characterize a resilient system:

  • Sensitivity to internal and external environments
  • Responsiveness to needs, changes, and challenges in those environments
  • Robust connections across space and time to withstand multiple challenges

As a powerful facilitator you recognize how your role goes beyond today’s problem solving and decision making. It is also about building skills and capacity that support the group’s future needs and decisions.

I will say it again: Facilitation is a complex and challenging task. Good facilitators help their clients see the dynamics of their system in ways that help them make powerful and effective choices and decisions. They do this, even knowing that outcomes cannot be predicted or controlled. Today’s blog offers three critical competencies of powerful facilitation:

  • Stand in inquiry
  • See, understand, influence interdependence across system scales
  • Support a group to establish patterns of resilience

But the underlying question remains: How can a facilitator use these competencies to inform powerful action with any group?

Whether you are an intuitively skilled facilitator or interested in developing your skills, you can use Adaptive Action to act on these competencies. In my next blog article, join me to explore how Adaptive Action can help you use these competencies to move your game to the next level.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this week’s article. Also, please note that later this month, we are offering an online learning opportunity to explore these ideas more deeply. Please consider joining us for Facilitation and Adaptive Action: Leverage the Power of Groups. It’s an online exploration and sharing that takes a deeper dive into these concepts. Join us for this engaging opportunity to hone your own skills.

Be in touch, and let me know what you are seeing.


1Miguel Quotes. BrainyQuote.com, Xplore Inc, 2018. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/miguel_502041, accessed February 5, 2018.

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