Facilitator as Coach, Teacher, Trainer, and Mentor

As facilitators, I think most of us will agree that our foremost role is this: to be the “keeper of the process.” Yet from a practical standpoint, we will often be called to edge over slightly into roles better described by terms such as coach, teacher, trainer, and mentor. How you may ask do these roles differ? Let’s take a quick look.

Facilitation as it’s normally understood, refers to managing and maintaining a group process. The primary focus of the facilitator is on “how” the process is going in the group. The facilitator will help the group to stick with their ground rules and guidelines that bound the process they have agreed to use to get to some end result.

Coaching is typically practiced with individuals, and tends to be bit more directive than facilitation. Coaching focuses on helping individuals get into immediate action, while addressing barriers and support they may need to get moving quickly. Coach usually asks more of the group than pure Facilitation–often challenging the group to produce more or be more.

Group Coaching supports individuals who are part of groups with common interests, skills, or issues. While coaching focuses on individuals in the group, the remainder of the group receives indirect benefit from witnessing individuals being coached.

Training requires that the trainer have specific knowledge in the subject of the training. The job of the trainer is to impart knowledge or skills to her students using a variety of methods at her disposal. Effective trainers will often employ facilitation and coaching skills. Note that facilitators and coaches don’t necessary have experience in, nor do they focus on, the technical content in which their clients are involved.

Teaching tends to be more didactic. In other words, teachers instruct and inform their students, very much like the process I’m using right now. I’m basically telling you what I think and how I see the subject matter before us.

Mentoring involves instructing, guiding, coaching someone seeking to master a particular field that you have already mastered. Though mentoring is very “content” focused, it will also often employ teaching, training, and coaching as well.

So in summary, for the purposes of clarity, we could say that facilitation and coaching focus more on the “who” and the “how,” where teaching, training, and mentoring focus more on the “what.”

Flowing Between Roles

Please understand that the roles we defined above are discreet terms that address aspects of a continuum of skills and approaches. Very seldom does anyone adhere to any one individual role, never crossing, even a little, into a related role.

For example, a facilitator working with a group who passed up an opportunity to coach an individual seeking to take an action they’ve been stuck on would be doing the individual and the group a great disservice. Assuming first of course that the individual consented to the coaching.

We’re suggesting here that knowing and practicing the role of coach, teacher, trainer, or mentor may be appropriate at times, within the context of facilitation. And may in fact substantially increase your effectiveness as a facilitator.

For example, a client seeking your services as a facilitator to help improve teamwork in their organization may employ your services to facilitate team-building. To help individuals become better team players, you may need to coach them individually around how their behaviors are impacting the team either pro or con. You may need to “teach” them the attributes of an effective team and team player. You may need to train them in the skills held by good team players. You may need to provide an environment where enough trust is facilitated so that they feel safe sharing their fears that are keeping them from showing up as a more effective team player.

So how does one know when to cross into these other roles? First have clarity and understanding with your client on their goals for the group. Second, be attuned to what each situations seems to be calling for and whether or not you feel a natural pull into the shift that you choose.

How do you make an effective shift in and out of the role of facilitator? To avoid diluting your function as facilitator, it is important to make transitions into and out of other roles effectively. This is especially true if you make a transition from facilitator to participant/content expert. It can be helpful to actually announce to the group that you are going to make this transition. Then once your input is complete, announce your transition back. Some facilitators have even been known to physically put on different hats when changing roles just to make the transitions visible.

You may already be dancing between roles as a facilitator without really thinking about it. And frankly, that’s often the goal. To seamlessly show up in a way that best facilitates the results your client is after. Hopefully gaining clarity about the roles will help you fill in any gaps that may be present. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on this topic.

Action

Review the roles above and assess how many of them you play in your work. Would embracing a different mix of these roles improve your effectiveness in any way? If so, how? I’d love to hear what happens for you. If so, please let us know, along with sharing your questions, feedback, and experience on this topic in the comments section below.

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