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Agile culture: The key role of the facilitator

Agile culture: The key role of the facilitator

Any organization that intends to have an agile and collaborative culture should have in its teams one or many facilitators. Conceptualizing the existence of the facilitator and considering this role as a necessary talent is key to building organizations that think about the future.

The development of new skills and roles, a necessity

 

We talk a lot today about talent, how to identify it, how to retain it, how to develop it… but I’m not so sure we are all discussing the same thing. I find that many people – even some professionals in the Human Resources areas – just understand talent as a new name for something already known.

I am far from wanting to introduce a dichotomy between a “new” and an “old” position. I have shared ideas several times with Carlos Lucena, former Human Resources manager of a leading international company, who is extraordinarily open-minded, and takes a position rarely seen: he allows himself to think outside paradigms. We have had many recurring conversations around the need to rethink the processes related to Human Capital – or Talent Management, Human Resources or whatever the organizations call the function that many years ago was named “Personnel”.

The thoughts that most attract me from these discussions are the ones about the skills and competencies that will be needed in the future and how to acquire them; regardless if they will be used as leaders of an area in a company or as independent professionals in future career paths.

As part of this idea, the conclusion – already discussed in various media and by various specialists – is that these new skills will entail the need to create new functions and positions.

And there is one that I find fundamental: the real facilitator.

Rethinking the role of the facilitator

 

Since 1983 – the year in which Ford Motor Argentina organized the first seminar for the training of Facilitators – it has become more common for people to ask me about the characteristics or the profile that a good facilitator should have. I have polished the response, at first in discussions with Oscar Cecchi and Jack Jones, and later with Graciela Kort and Debora Bronstein.

The experience that the consultancy gave us all helped us find new nuances and better understand the true meaning of some terms. Nevertheless, I never felt that the concepts we used were too original or different from those used by others.

I could be wrong, but remembering those talks with managers, while still at Ford, then as Human Resources Development Manager at Renault, and finally – as a consultant – with managers of client companies, I think that I was probably more effective in evaluating the profiles than defining them.

Very recently, some situations made me realize that one of those necessary skills needed for the future is the capacity to be a facilitator, and this made me rediscover the role and resignify the conditions that it must have.

The real facilitator takes part

 

The main characteristic of a real facilitator is, with no doubt, that he actively takes part. Of course, he has to be objective, but he takes a position.

Companies need few, but productive roles that facilitate communication and relationships, even if sometimes they do not turn out too well for the facilitators who work on this.

I wish we could always talk about communication, collaboration, teamwork, and creativity as if we lived in perfect organizations. But, unfortunately, in the real world, arguments, confrontations, miscommunication, and even simple perceptions of who are alike and who are not, exist. It happens just like in a group of undergraduates, where one prefers to gather with some people and not with others.

In a social relationship, on Saturdays at a party, or even in family relationships, it can be just a matter of affinity. But, in the workplace, when we talk about integration, collaboration, and teamwork, working only with the most alike is an option that does not exist.

The real facilitator brings people closer

 

In the past weeks, I have seen cases in which the people who were supposed to help achieve understanding and find a shared solution, have preferred to disengage with the problem in order to get along with all groups in confronting positions.

Bringing people together and facilitating discussions can sometimes mean not looking so good to some of the parties. And this is ok.

A good facilitator does not take a lukewarm position to maintain balance. He/she looks for the solution. He/she prioritizes the need to achieve collaboration between those two people or functions, regardless of what they will say or think. He/she knows that, in any case, if the collaboration is achieved, everyone will end up valuing his/her contribution.

The real facilitator acts (regardless of his function)

 

Being a facilitator is a role and not a function. While a function is a formal responsibility that has systematic activities and processes in charge, a role is the implementation of a competence that helps achieve a particular objective.

In an organization that seeks to be agile, dynamic, and creative, this role and competencies must be present in a number of people, regardless of what function they are in. These people will act when a conflict or need for understanding arises.

The role of facilitator -and the inherent skills that this role entails- can be in different formal positions within an organization, such as a negotiator, a Black Belt, an Agile Coach, a Scrum Master. But there are positions in which this role and these skills are a must-have, as is the case of people who belong to the Talent Management area.

Conclusions

 

I do not see the role of the facilitator being considered in the daily discussions about talent. The skills of a facilitator are often underestimated both in the university syllabus and in internal company training.

What are the characteristics of a good facilitator?

  • Understands all positions and searches for the solution.
  • Stimulates collective construction, bringing to light the ideas and knowledge of others.
  • Empowers participants, and shares responsibility, and results.
  • Encourages participation, creativity and teaches how to think together.
  • Does not refrain from seeking to remain “objective”.

 

The profiles of a good and real facilitator have long shown their value in dealing with friction and fostering collaboration. Working as a team, being digital, being more agile, putting the customer first, and embracing a culture of continuous improvement, are all tasks a facilitator really contributes to.

I believe that the formalization of the existence of the facilitator and the consideration as a necessary talent is key to building organizations that prepare for the future.

Author: Raúl Molteni

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