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Using the principles of facilitative leadership, even novice facilitators will succeed if they can:

  • Draw line of sight from the meeting deliverable to the quality of life of the meeting participants.
  • Know where they are going and how to lead.
  • Provide compelling evidence that the meeting will impact the wallet size of participants. 
  • Prove WHY the meeting is important.

To understand “facilitative leadership,” begin by understanding the two terms: ‘facilitative’ and ‘leadership’. For example, the root term for ‘facilitative’ means “to make easy”. Therefore, the role of a leader primarily relies on making it easier for their people to succeed. Leadership, however, begins with line of sight and knowing where you are going. A leader needs to know the destination and focus on reaching milestones during the journey. For instance, in team meetings, a leader needs to know what DONE looks like. In other words, they need to know the destination.

Similarly, facilitative leadership demands understanding about . . .

We aspire to develop understanding among our readers about the differences and challenges of becoming a facilitative leader. Furthermore, to generate insight that extends beyond that of a modern leader.

We seek primarily to shift the thinking of our readers from facilitation (as a noun or a static way of being) to facilitating (as a verb or a dynamic way of doing). Therefore, truly making it easier for meeting participants to make more informed decisions. Facilitating creates value because the method encourages speaking with people rather than at them. For that reason, facilitating is about creating an environment that is conducive to productivity and breakthrough. Above all, the role of facilitator is about stimulating and inspiring people. In other words, facilitating amplifies the DNA of the modern leader.

Why You Should Care – Challenges with Meetings and Group Sessions Today

Facilitative Leadership, Novice Facilitators

Issues and challenges with meetings include:

  • Being able to clearly articulate the meeting purpose, scope, deliverable, and agenda.
  • Avoiding judgment, both positive and negative.
  • Avoiding the first person singular, especially the word “I” and put the focus on the participants “you” or the integral “us”.
  • Building and using an appropriate methodology, a long word for agenda. The agenda represents the method or how the leader will get the team from the introduction to the wrap in a consensual and expeditious manner.
  • Challenging participants to make their thinking visible. Understanding that people think about symptoms, not causes.
  • Constantly observing the participants’ and body language or using a roll call method to further include virtual participants dialing into the meeting.
  • Having well-built questions that avoid vagueness and ambiguity. Understanding that the meeting deliverable (call it ‘Y’) is a function of many details (call them ‘X’ for the major issues and ‘x’ for the minor points). Therefore, Y is a function of many Xxes. Participants do not need answers. They need someone who knows the right questions to ask, and the optimal sequence for those questions.
  • Removing distractions during the meeting, especially electronic leashes.
  • Showing up for meetings prepared and that includes having properly prepared participants so that the meeting can take off running.
  • Staying conscious about all of the above at once, while carefully administering and adjusting to a method replete with appropriate tools to get more done faster.
  • Substance over style, speaking with clarity when required (ie, aspiring toward rhetorical precision). Realizing however that the “facilitator” role is primarily geared toward listening rather than preaching.
  • Understanding there is more than one right answer and decision-making quality is sensitive to the conditions under which one solution may or may not be better than an alternative.

Nine Characteristics of the Facilitative Leadership Difference

Modern leaders exhibit traits that head in the right direction, compared to traditional or historic leaders, but a further shift is still required to be truly facilitative so that their teams and groups realize the full potential of consensus, commitment, and ownership. Consequently, here are nine characteristics of the facilitative leadership difference.

Modern Leaders Facilitative Leaders
  • Are receptive to change
  • Communicate and receive feedback
  • Can also structure activities to ensure that participants evaluate them and each other
  • More than people savvy, they are group focused
  • Believe that staff work for them
  • Work to exceed the expectations of all stakeholders, including their staff
  • Have meeting management skills
  • Can also use groups to build complex deliverables and structure any type of conversation with collaboration
  • Involved in directing tasks
  • Strive to build collaborative decisions based on staff input
  • Leads groups whose members are highly skilled and also accountable for outcomes
  • Focus on providing structure that supports superior performance
  • Work to meet the expectation of management
  • Operate without status or rank consciousness


Facilitative leadership benefits are best realized for projects and teams where the leader is coordinating competent specialists in complex situations. The best leaders are flexible because both command control and facilitative leadership have their place. Task-focused direction is required for the close oversight of tasks. Structure-focused direction works best when leading teams of experts.

When to Use Facilitative Leadership

We want you to see that facilitative leadership does not apply to all situations but is ideally suited for projects and teams where the leader is coordinating the efforts of competent specialists when requirements are not fully understood. The best leaders are flexible because both modes of leadership have their place. So, use the following and consider facilitative leadership when you have:

  • An effort or project requiring breakthrough, creativity, and innovation
  • Decisions requiring broad support and commitment from stakeholders
  • Diverse team members who get evaluated with different performance measurement systems
  • Extremely complex or sensitive decisions
  • Group members who need to be self-motivated because they are working independently
  • Historically hostile parties or complex bureaucracies
  • Leaders operating without direct authority over some of the members
  • New to the organization or resurrecting something that failed before
  • Projects crossing multiple lines of business or departments
  • Projects tied to a critical time frame
  • Situations calling for leaders seen as neutral by all parties
  • Strong subject matter experts needing to align around new goals or outcomes
  • Teams communicating across time zones, cultures, and organizational boundaries

Organizational Benefits of Facilitative Leadership: Improve Quality, Reduce Costs, and Optimize Timing

Facilitative Leadership, Novice Facilitators

Facilitative Leadership Benefits

Benefits ensue both to organization and participants. Organizations that deploy skilled facilitators have allocated resources to ensure the success of their meetings.

  • Ability to test for the quality of the deliverable before meeting concludes (valuable since the worst deliverable of any meeting is another meeting).
  • Agendas, approaches, tools, deliverables, and outputs become more repeatable and consistent.
  • Analysts obtain higher quality, more comprehensive information.
  • As context is carefully managed, teams focus on higher quality content.
  • As stakeholders’ ideas are included, meetings become more collaborative and innovative.
  • Facilitative leadership makes it easier to develop new leaders.
  • Faster results: facilitated sessions accelerate the capture of information, especially if the meeting participants (aka subject matter experts) arrive knowing the questions and issues that need to be discussed.
  • Fewer omissions—projects accelerate with increased clarity and reduced uncertainty.
  • Greater commitment and buy-in from all stakeholders.
  • Higher quality results: groups of people make higher quality decisions than the smartest person in the group. Facilitated sessions encourage the exchange of different points of view enabling the group to identify new options, and it is a proven fact that people or groups with more options at their disposal make higher quality decisions.
  • Increased return-on-meeting time and investment.
  • Modern leaders who have been successful with their existing style accrue additional benefits from the increased flexibility of adapting a facilitative style.
  • More coherent communication among workshop participants, project, steering, and dependent teams.
  • Participants learn HOW TO THINK and become more effective from “board room to boiler room”.
  • Properly facilitated sessions lead to innovation because multiple perspectives generate a richer (360 degree) understanding.
  • When staff is treated as collegial, commitment and motivation increases.
  • With assertive structure and facilitation, quality dialogue becomes the focus.
  • Witness a decline of smart people making dumb decisions.

Six Personal Benefits by Improving Your Facilitative Leadership and Meeting Skills

As you amplify and increase your facilitative leadership skills, you and your team participants will become more successful. What is our measurement of success? Let us consider six substantial areas of success for improving your facilitative leadership and meeting in more detail:

  1. Consensual Understanding and Higher Quality Decisions

Properly facilitated, participants understand both WHAT is decided and WHY. Since groups are capable of generating more options than the aggregate of individuals, they arrive at higher quality decisions that are capable of reconciling seemingly contrary points of view.

  1. Flexibility and Breaking through Stalemates and Deadlocks

Structured approaches afford a higher degree of flexibility, than approaches without structure. With structure and topical flow, meetings can take the “scenic route” because there is a backup plan to provide a respite from the stream of consciousness approach taken by unstructured meetings. By exploring newly created options and challenging working assumptions, teams can breakthrough their stalemates and deadlocks by rediscovering common ground or by creating options during the meeting that did not walk into the room at the start of the meeting.

  1. Impactful Groups through Improved Working Relationships

Conflict becomes properly managed rather than ignored. Complex issues may be addressed face-to-face as they should, rather than through a series of e-mails and innuendo. Proper facilitation will demonstrate the opportunity and method for discovering win-win solutions. As stakeholders’ ideas are sought, meeting activity becomes more collaborative and innovative.

  1. Integral Decision-Making

Defined as better alignment with organizational goals and objectives. Structured decision-making must appeal to organizational goals and objectives supported by the meeting; typically, the project, program, business unit, and enterprise. Alignment with the “holarchial” perspective ensures that proposed actions are appropriate and supports prioritization based on the impact of proposed changes across the entire enterprise. Therefore, effective decision-making reflects the integral perspective.

  1. Knowledge Transfer and Increased Organizational Effectiveness

Learning organizations understand the need and power behind the transfer of knowledge from those who know to those who do not know, but should. Facilitated environments provide the opportunity for challenge, reflection, and documentation that underlies shared understanding and amplifies organizational effectiveness. Facilitative leadership also makes it easier to develop new leaders.

  1. Saving Time and Increased Personal Effectiveness

Session leaders (aka facilitators) will get more done faster. As staff is treated as colleagues, commitment, and motivation increases. By becoming an expert on method and tools rather than content, they can continue to use tools that generate consistent and repeatable results. Meetings only fail because either the participants do not have the talent, do not have the motivation, or do not know how. The role of the facilitative leader shows them how.

Future Facilitative Leadership Factors

Future media will be increasingly personal and flexible, providing a more robust ability to filter out what individuals do not want, and to more fully support, what individuals might intuit as desirable. The Futurist encapsulated six megatrends identified by the Georgia Institute of Technology (according to FutureMedia director Renu Kulkarni). Consequently, each of these megatrends will see breakthrough research and innovation in the years ahead that will affect facilitative leadership. The six megatrends are:

  1. Collaboration to harness the power of “an increasingly conversational and participatory world”
  2. Content integrity to monitor data vulnerability and better vet the original sources of information
  3. Nimble media to help ease movement across platforms such as hand-held and larger, appliance type devices
  4. People platforms that allow individuals to improve their social networks
  5. Sixth sense integrating most or all five physical senses in a digital “mixed reality”
  6. Smart data that delivers what is sought

In Conclusion — Our Ten Commandments of Facilitative Leadership

Facilitative Leadership, Novice Facilitators

Ten Commandments of Facilitative Leadership

Following are our Ten Commandments or guiding principles for dealing with people, all based on “Treat others as you wish to be treated”. People (are) . . .

  1. Creative if asked
  2. Do not like to be blamed
  3. Hate being embarrassed, especially in public
  4. Have different goals in life
  5. Intelligent
  6. Intrinsically reasonable
  7. Prefer the positive to the negative
  8. Share similar fears
  9. Want to be recognized
  10. Want to make a difference.


Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

Our courses also provide an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, and 40 CDUs from IIBA, as well as 3.2 CEUs for other professions. (See individual class descriptions for details.)

Want a free 10-minute break timer? Signup for our once-monthly newsletter HERE and receive a timer along with four other of our favorite facilitation tools, free.


Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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