How do you identify a bad facilitator before you hire them? Tips for worried clients


Here’s my take on a big question here that often is at the heart of the facilitator-client relationship. How do you weed out poor facilitators at the early conversation stage?

There is a danger of a conflict of interest existing in change facilitation, especially if the facilitator badly needs the work. In entering into a conversation with a client, a facilitator who needs the work badly may often lose objectivity and even ethical stability. They need the work, but does the client need the facilitator or what they have to offer?

Beware that initial pitching conversation

It may well be that the initial inquiry is in relation to something within the facilitators’ repertoire. Then the opening conversation proceeds… How many facilitators really do say: Well, actually, I’m not the best person to offer that. Or – You don’t really need that at all, you need THAT (and other people can do that much better than me).

Even worse, the facilitator wittingly or unwittingly FACIPULATES the conversation to bring it within the repertoire of the facilitator, even when it isn’t really what the client needs. This is actually fraud when truly the client doesn’t need what is on offer. It can be the right thing to do (if it is done honestly and respectfully) if the facilitator genuinely believes the client is unsure of what they want, or focused on the wrong issues. Here honest persuasion might be just what is needed.

Some facilitators are in such a meglomaniacal dialogue with themselves, they manouevre every client conversation towards their own personal and professional territory. They also offer all-singing, all-dancing skill sets to enable all client approaches and requests to result in a “yes, I can do that”. The real meglomaniacs believe it is their bounden duty to get the contract because no one else in the universe is as good as them.

Other facilitators, caught in a “win” mindset do just that: they see clients as targets to win over and employ whatever conversational tricks they can to get the work.

So, common sense is a good way to root out dodgy facilitators. Clients should trust to their instincts and root out anyone who seems to be changing their tune at every turn in order to get the work, who seems to be pushing something fixed from off the shelf (check their web site) regardless of individual client need, and who uses terms like “run the session”, “delivering change” and words and phrases that are really empty promises given we haven’t yet met the unique group of human beings in the meeting room! Another good question to ask oneself would be” “Would I be comfortable initing these people into my home” and also “If this person was my doctor, would I be comfortable being treated by him/her?”

What and who to look for

I’d look for a facilitator who listens well and authentically; who doesn’t keep interrupting you halfway through your sentence or who tries to finish your sentences off for you. I’d look for a facilitator who asks plenty of questions, seeking out your needs and then being genuinely flexible and adaptive yo YOUR situation. I’d look for a facilitator who is genuinely ready to say “I am not the right person for you or for this task”. I’d look for a facilitator who cannot promise to deliver the earth in advance but who has a clear and flexible approach and who is eager to meet the participants and stakeholders. I’d look for a facilitator who (often you can find this out on their web site) is developing ideas and practice within their own field, who is innovating and who has broad experience in the world, which really means they are open to new experiences, and new encounters with different cultures, people and ideas. Often a poor facilitator will present a client with a proposal that is simply lifted from previous jobs with very little real flex, innovation or change – they try to force fit new client conversations into past delivered projects. Of course we can and should draw on the past, but we shouldn’t vamp it out of laziness.

I’d always try to collect stories from their past clients and look beyond praise quotes on their web sites. I’d ask them questions about their current broader take on the world and see what their values are. And I’d focus that on their view of people, their approach to learning and look for the warning signs that they see themselves as more important than their clients. Look out for facilitators who don’t respect confidentiality – as they try to win you over, they quote other work they have done in entirely inappropriate ways.

I’d always seek facilitators who are grounded in timeline thinking. They have as much reverence for the past, and not just the tired old corporate speak about “goals” and “targets”. They recognise the importance of stories and narratives and how the future is part of a storyline in time, very much influenced in the present, by our history and prehistory. I’d look for facilitators for whom values and ethics are important, who abhor manipulation and “winning” people over in favour of grown up dialogue, honest, directness and not colluding with mediocrity. I’d look for facilitators who respect diversity and don’t mind risking being thrown out for risking the zone of discomfort. Also watch out for the egoism of some facilitators – they will say I and ME a lot – their prime reference point in public is themselves and not the people and processes they are trying to serve. I like the concept from Bernard Livegoed of “selfless selfishness” – the facilitator isn’t afraid to look after themself, as long as the motive of this is to better serve the wider process and community need. Always try to uncover a facilitator’s motives. I believe motive is everything, and I believe service should run ahead of everything else if you truly want to facilitate helpful change. Because that is what you are there to do – help. The fee is a recognition of that help, not the goal. The fee is a good side effect, not an output. Help – progression – that is the output.

I’d love to hear other peoples’ thoughts on this.


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2 thoughts on “How do you identify a bad facilitator before you hire them? Tips for worried clients

  1. I think your point “I’d look for a facilitator who seeks out your needs and then … is genuinely flexible and adaptive to YOUR situation – covers the essence of any good facilitation.

    So from the point of view of a client, I would look for someone who begins with the objectives you as a client want to achieve, and then shows they can design a process that will help you to achieve what you want, in a focused way.

    If you, as a client are not sure of what it is you are trying to achieve and your facilitator is trying to ‘sell you’ something, then use this article – on how to choose what intervention is best for you – to help you evaluate what your facilitator is offering.

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