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To become an unconsciously competent facilitator, you first become conscious and then competent. As you progress and increase your abilities, you will note an evolution of competency, illustrated in the chart below. First, note that consciousness precedes competence. You do not achieve a consistent level of success until you have developed consciousness about what is required. Secondly, you will discover that the amount of time between each of the stages decreases as you make progress. Let’s look at each of the stages and the aphorisms offered up by John Maxwell that captures the sentiment of each stage.

Becoming an Unconsciously Competent Facilitator

Becoming an Unconsciously Competent Facilitator

Unconsciously Incompetent

Before you undertake a complex activity, you slumber through an area of unconscious incompetence. You may linger at this stage for decades. Look at the amount of time it takes to discover the difference between well-run and poorly run meetings. In this stupor, you “do not know what you do not know.” You lack both knowledge and skills and are unaware of your incapacity.

Consciously Incompetent

Yet another stage remains before you become competent. Here you develop increased consciousness. During this stage, you also develop aspirations and hopes. You begin to envision yourself as competent and contributory. You may linger in this state for a long time, depending on your determination to learn and the real extent to which you accept your incompetence. Most importantly, your consciousness enables you to observe and identify the characteristics of competency, typically in others, as you begin to “know what you don’t know.”

Consciously Competent

Cast into the role of facilitator, you find yourself slipping into and out of competency. You can increase the consistency of your competency by taking formal training, practicing, participating with others who aspire to be better and obtaining valuable feedback. Developing competence occurs much quicker than developing consciousness. Practice, training, and feedback help because they increase your consciousness. You “grow and know and it starts to show.”

Unconsciously Competent

With repetitive practice and experience, you reach a point where you no longer need to think about what you are doing. You become competent without the significant effort that characterizes the state of conscious competence. In fact, you will drift in and out of unconscious competence, based on the skills you master quickly. It takes little time to become unconsciously competent, only practice. Here your services are requested “because of what you know.” Eventually, you know that it feels right and you do it.

Howell (1982) originally describes the four stages:

“Unconscious incompetence – this is the stage where you are not even aware that you do not have a particular competence. Conscious incompetence – this is when you know that you want to learn how to do something but you are incompetent at doing it. Conscious competence – this is when you can achieve this particular task but you are very conscious about everything you do. Unconscious competence – this is when you finally master it and you do not even think about what you have such as when you have learned to ride a bike very successfully”
— (Howell, 1982, p.29-33)

See also: Howell, W.S. (1982). The Empathic Communicator University of Minnesota: Wadsworth Publishing Company

Remember, consciousness precedes competence, and superb competence does not take much time, but it does take practice. We hope you are getting your fair share of challenges and seize the opportunity for more practice and feedback.


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.)

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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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