As a YMCA-certified SCUBA diver, we were taught to “take only photographs and leave only bubbles.” Likewise, an effective facilitator should take only participant input and leave only a thorough trail of documentation and rationale. You will find this premise emphasized in the 27th verse of the Wisdom of the Tao written 2,500 years ago. While varying translations and transliterations exist, we’ve borrowed one version of the 27th verse below:

A knower of the truth

travels without leaving a trace,

speaks without causing harm,

gives without keeping an account.

The door the shuts, though having no lock,

cannot be opened.

The knot he ties, though using no cord,

cannot be undone.

The Traveler

Be wise and help all being impartially,

abandoning none.

Waste no opportunities.

This is called following the light.

What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?

What is a bad man but a good man’s job?

If the teacher is not respected

and the student is not cared for,

confusion will arise, however clever one is.

This is the great secret.

The role of facilitator is captured by both the knower and the teacher, of context. The shut door represents preventing scope creep. The tied knot represents the consensus that has been built, perhaps not one’s “favorite” but at a high enough standard that participants will support it professionally and not lose any sleep over it personally. Helping all suggests the innovative potential that exists by embracing heterogeneity. Wasting no opportunities implies thorough listening and documentation.

Above all, to be wise is to be impartial—this is the great secret.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiative, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership-training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.