How does strategy teaching vary from strategy facilitation
The terms 'facilitation' and 'teaching' are often confused with one another when considering how best to implement strategy. I've even seen them used interchangeably. However, through working at Alembic Strategy, I've become aware of the significant difference in meaning between each, and why they produce completely different results when used in a client-facing scenario.
Before we get too far into the topic, I feel it is important to note there are individual requirements as well as benefits to either teaching and facilitation. Carrying out each activity requires a high levels of skill and experience. Both are vital for long term success, and if they are carried out well, are hugely valuable to whoever is receiving strategy training or facilitation.
Here are the definitions for each term:
- Oxford Dictionary defines facilitation as: ‘third-party facilitation seeks to promote the resolution of conflict’.
- Teaching is defined by Merriam-Webster as 'one that teaches, whose occupation is to instruct'.
Do you use an internal or external service?
Leadership strategy can benefit from facilitation which is usually carried out by neutral providers from outside your organisation. Being neutral allows for an external perspective that is completely free of any business bias or internal company politics (just make sure you are ready to hear the truth... and that you can handle the truth!).
However, teaching is often carried out by someone internal to the business, although it can be outsourced, on training days or off-sites for example. Whilst external facilitation is advantageous due to the impartiality of the provider, an internal teacher can be beneficial as a result of the deeper relationship that the person delivering the teaching has with staff and their knowledge of the business itself.
Fixed or flexible approach?
Teaching tends to have a fixed agenda to achieve a set goal, e.g. a promotion or 'filling the boots' of your new role. This can be valuable, but it is not always tailored or adapted for the audience.
Facilitation, however, is constantly adjusting to fit in with the client and issues that arise due to shifting business. Spoiler alert - people are very unpredictable! Even during a facilitation, the direction of the session can change, making life as a strategy facilitator incredibly fast-paced.
This means that strategy facilitation sessions are typically spontaneous, with the potential to change direction as a result of the input from those being facilitated to.
The combination of client input, insights being discovered and the realisation that they are in control of the outcome, frequently results in enthusiastic participation. Of course, this factor makes strategy facilitation engaging and exciting.
Long term or short term?
Facilitation has a long term view. It can be used to address and solve problems that are unlikely to resolve themselves easily in the near future. The process of facilitation equips clients with tools that they can implement themselves to facilitate their own conversations. This means that they become independently capable with tools and approaches, and are not necessarily reliant on the facilitator to continue with the service.
However, teaching tends to provide a shorter term outlook and requires the 'teacher' to return following the session for learning to continue .
Knowledge shared or gained?
When I think of teaching, I think of a teacher who has all the knowledge, maybe someone who is older and wiser. Teaching is a great way to further your skills and knowledge (gotta get those CPD points!) and can be useful at work and daily life. But in facilitation the audience have the knowledge and expertise which is brought out by the skill of facilitation. The skill here is to learn what the key information is and extract this.
Teaching is useful for informing, but it is often theory that is then not applied by the audience. Facilitation, on the other hand, provides participants with the tools to hold conversations that produce practical solutions. These solutions can be implemented and maintained with the help of a facilitator.
Individual or group strategy?
The focus of teaching is often individual e.g. to gain a qualification or to expand your understanding of a topic. Although this occasionally requires group work, it is often focused on one person. Facilitation is focused on the outcome for the wider team. This can of course make it more complex (but also more exciting) and allows everyone to share their knowledge, voice their opinion to reach a solution together whilst uniting the team.
When is strategy facilitation needed?
This links back to the 'Storming' phase of Team Psychology. Often, clients require facilitation because they are 'stuck in a rut' with the same issues continuing to prevent progress. This is often because they are not yet equipped with the tools to hold difficult conversations and progress to a solution they can move forward with (a classic characteristic of the 'Storming' phase!). Strategy facilitation allows these conversations to happen in a controlled way, with the necessary guidance in place so that clients are able to hold these conversations independently.
Read more about when facilitation works.
During our Strategy Café with Heather McLaughlin, Dean of Coventry University Business School, Heather discussed the need for University staff to become facilitators. Heather went on to state that "facilitation is very different to teaching", leading them to change the "mindset of faculty staff to become facilitators of learning, rather than teachers of it".
Heather proceeded to suggest that the organisation would have to accept that people learn in different ways and facilitation helps to highlight this. It is a big leap from teaching to facilitation, therefore staff need to be educated here to introduce a facilitation mindset.
You can watch the full webinar here.
Whether you're teaching or facilitating strategy, both have their own unique pros and cons and are useful in different contexts. Teaching strategy is more focussed on individual development (e.g. CPD events or qualifications). Whereas, strategy facilitation is useful when third party involvement is required between two or more individuals to guide and overcome the obstacles they are facing. It is certainly true that the added engagement gained through facilitation helps to embed capabilities, which allows organisations are able to continue forming their own plans long after the facilitator has left the building.