Facilitation: The Good, Bad and Ugly

This is Part 6 of a short series on facilitation and its uses in organizations. To read the entire series from the beginning, start at the bottom of the Facilitation page of this site.

In a previous post in this series, Ann Emery asked me to share stories from successful (and not so successful) facilitations that I’ve taken part in.  When I thought about the many meetings I’ve participated in or led, I can only think of one that went kind of wrong (let’s keep the streak alive!), and that had more to do with the dynamics of the organization than the meeting topic or the facilitator. However, there was one that I led that had the potential to go wrong, but ended up going really well.

Here’s the background…

I was hired to help an organization do some planning. We had an initial session where I dutifully helped them write a vision statement, and then we scheduled another meeting to create a long range action plan. I began my background research, and uncovered some problems. Big problems. Going out of business problems!

I realized that long range planning was the last thing the org needed. What they really needed was their board to face up to the situation. I decided that instead of a planning meeting, I was going to confront them with their reality. This could have gone one of two ways:

  1. I get fired.
  2. The participants rise to the challenge.

Fortunately, the latter happened and we had a productive meeting. The org is by no means out of the woods yet, but they have taken some solid steps to define who they are, what they want to do, and how they can go forward in this time of crisis.

Now, it’s your turn to share. Do you have any stories of great or awful facilitators or facilitated meetings? Please disguise identities to protect the guilty, but give us the best (and worst) you’ve got!

photo by: b.frahm

3 thoughts on “Facilitation: The Good, Bad and Ugly”

  1. Hi Maria,

    Thanks for sharing this story! I used to be an internal evaluator and I’ve faced similar facilitation challenges. Evaluators see the good and bad sides of the programs and the organizations, and it’s always tricky to share that “truth” of what’s really going on with those in power. People might have an idea that a problem is growing and that it’s time to face the problem head-on, but they still don’t want to hear about it.

    My worst (but ultimately best) facilitations have been when I’m sharing results with a group and want them to start discussing the results. Often, there’s something unexpected or surprising in there. I think one of the most important facilitation skills is to turn a seemingly negative situation (i.e. bad eval results) into an opportunity for improvement where everyone feels inspired to change for the better by the time they leave the room.


  2. @David – thank you for visiting the site!

    @Ann – great point. I really good facilitator can take the focus off the negative aspects of a situation and get the group exploring possibilities.

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