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death to the facilitators, long live the difficultator!

March 4, 2014

I am calling for a revolution.

Facilitators need to rounded up and run out-of-town. Making things easy must be outlawed.

And you know why. You’ve been there. A room full of people looking at “The Problem” where nobody trusts anyone else enough to let them lead the conversation. Enter the Expert Facilitator, engaged to make things easier. Plausible solutions start to appear and are captured (like wild animals) to be tamed into tasks that other people will be given accountability for completing.  The Problem has been solved! Or it will be after a few more meetings to sort out the specific details with the individuals involved…

Backs are patted and thanks are given.

Success is declared.

Except you know there is little chance it will be. A success that is.

And you know why. Because the facilitator made things easier. The truly difficult conversations didn’t take place. The plausible solutions are only plausible if you can acquire the corporate equivalent of a pair of ruby slippers and you know they don’t sell them in your size.

Training is the same.

You know before you go that you cannot fail. The trainer will ‘facilitate’ your learning. But you know what? Having someone there to make it easy for you turns it into a lose-lose situation. You lose because you don’t retain the skills or knowledge that is the whole point of the training. The organisation loses for exactly the same reason plus they paid to have you there. This is thinking at the level that created our problems and it is not going to help you solve them.

A revolution is required to bring about an end to the facilitator. An end to the trainer who makes things easy for you.

As the statues of Expert Facilitators are toppled in towns and cities around the world I would erect nothing in their place – that would only make it easy for you. And easy will not help us.

If you want to make a difference you need to find yourself a difficultator. They are not interested in hearing that you don’t have time, that your resources are limited or that Jo from Engineering is the source of all your problems. They are not interested in easy.

If you are lucky enough to find one you can be sure they will put the obstacles of reality into the path of you and your team. Provocations will be offered, unspeakable questions spoken. Easy to agree with solutions blocked and ruby slippers  held up and shown to be movie props – simple and elegant for sure but props just the same. Stakes are taken from their holders who are sent back to try again – this time taking account of a deeper understanding of the prevailing conditions within the organisation. A mirror is held up to help you stay focused on the question “for the sake of what are we doing this?”

Like the Fate of War in the Samurai Game, the serve you best when they are arbitrary, capricious and unfair. Why? Because the world is all that and more and easy will not help you.

Give up on calling a facilitator to make things easy for you. If you want solutions and you are prepared to do the work that is required to get you where you want to go (Kansas or otherwise) start searching for a difficultator. It will make all the difference.

(Perhaps I am being too quick in calling for the death of the facilitator. There may be a role for them yet – documenting the results of the process. Nobody likes to do that…)


This post was inspired by Augusto Boal’s idea of the difficultator or Joker in his Theatre of the Oppressed. If you would like me to come and share with you and your team the insights that come from the experiential learning environments that I create, make me an offer via the Contact Me page. If you enjoyed reading this or my other posts and you would like to read more, you can subscribe and receive them via email simply by putting your email address into the Email Subscription box just on the right of my blog home page. You will receive a confirmation email (which some systems will think is spam so keep an eye on your junk mail) that you need to acknowledge to complete the subscription process.

After you have subscribed, send this post on to your friends. Go on. You know at least one person who should read this post and three more who could use a bit of shaking up… seriously. Do it now. You read this far so send it on! I promise they won’t judge you or think less of you if you do.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2014 7:59 am

    I like being a facilitator… I enjoy seeing resolution after fleshing through a meaty problem. But being a difficultator, well that is incredible. Although it is also draining, emotionally and mentally, there is nothing more satisfying that getting to the root of things and talking about the hard stuff. I don’t do it nearly enough. Because people don’t like it when you hold up a mirror. I’ve just got to be ready for it when they hold the mirror up to me.


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