Developing Successful Organisations: The Key Role of the Facilitator

Discover why facilitation can make a difference in today’s work challenges

January 22, 2024
·
9 min read
mani che tengono post-it con appunti scritti sopra durante un workshop di facilitazione

This article is part of the How we work series. You can also read this story in Italian and Spanish.

If you would like to receive updates on this and other topics related to the changing world of work, subscribe to our newsletter here: https://cocoon-pro.com/#subscribe.

If you would like to learn more, or bring this approach to your organisation, contact us here: https://cocoon-pro.com/get-in-touch/


“Perfection is not attainable, but if we seek perfection we can achieve excellence.”

These words, generally attributed to Edward Deming, are often what makes the difference between a successful organisation and one that, at best, struggles to survive.

This sentence suggests that while excellence is achieved through the pursuit of perfection, it is vital to be able to identify the challenges for improvement within an organisation.

Indeed, in every organisation, regardless of its size or sector, there are challenges that can hinder productivity, efficiency and customers and employees satisfaction. This is true regardless of whether your organisation is a business, a non-profit or a public institution whose customers are the citizens. These problems, if not addressed, can lead to a dysfunctional working environment and diminished performance, undermining the ability to fully realise the purpose for which your organisation exists in the world.

In our field experience with multiple organisations in Italy and abroad, we have found that some of these challenges are very common. You probably will recognise yourself in them.

At the same time, precisely because our job is to actively support the organisations we work with in their continuous improvement, we have also seen that there is an extremely useful and relevant approach to help you overcome these challenges and pursue that quest for perfection that leads to excellence.

Let us discover it together.

THE CHALLENGES IN TODAY’S WORK

people working in a table in an office

In the complexity of today’s work dynamics — both due to the evident socio-economic changes around us, and the human and technological characteristics that every organisation has to deal with — often difficulties emerge in managing aspects such as:

  • Conflicts: different points of view, contrasting personalities, work pressures are just examples of the many factors that can lead to tensions between team members. These conflicts, if not managed properly, can generate a toxic working environment, reducing people’s productivity, satisfaction and effectiveness. Imagine a team in which members have conflicting ideas on how to proceed, leading to delays and frustration. Perhaps, you may not even have to imagine it, as it is very likely that you already experience it in the daily reality of your work.
  • Decision-making: often decisions are made by a small group of people in leadership positions, without involving those who will then have to implement them. Sometimes this is due to a lack of awareness and knowledge of more effective decision-making approaches. But even when decision-making becomes collaborative, difficulties may arise, especially when people with different opinions and perspectives are involved. This can lead to decisions that do not solve problems thoroughly or that do not take into account the needs and concerns of all group members.
  • Meeting efficiency: although meetings are a fundamental part of corporate life, they can often become inefficient and unproductive. Imagine a two-hour meeting where most of the time is spent discussing topics without reaching any conclusions. The data on this is also very clear: it is estimated that 71% of meetings are unproductive, causing unnecessary costs of around $37 billion per year (Sources: Forbes, Zippia).
  • Change management: it is well known that change is an inherent element in the life of an organisation today but it still continues to be a source of uncertainty, misalignment, frustration and resistance. According to a recent PwC report, only one in two companies is structurally prepared to manage innovation and change processes. However, in our experience, when transformation initiatives fail, in most cases, it is due to issues in change management that could have been avoided.
  • Team collaboration: it is very common to see teams working in silos, with little communication or collaboration between them. This often leads to poor cohesion and reduced efficiency. We all know how essential collaboration is for the success of a team and an organisation, but it can be challenging to achieve. The factors that hinder it can be many, such as a lack of communication, trust or alignment on goals.
  • Leveraging human potential: estimates of people’s engagement at work vary depending on the context, but in some cases they reach worrying figures. According to Gallup, for example, only 34% of people seem to be engaged in their work, while the remaining 66% view it as a means to earn a paycheck at the end of the month and do not contribute substantially to the development of their organisation. This waste of potential is an extremely significant impediment to both the company performance and people’s well-being.

Think about it. How often do you find yourself in these dynamics and challenges?

You will agree with us that these challenges are evident obstacles in the pursuit of perfection that leads to excellence.

However, it would be a serious mistake to think that there are linear, pre-packaged solutions to each of these challenges. Indeed, it is the most common mistake we see made by those who attempt to approach these issues without the necessary awareness and preparation.

Instead, what is needed is a different approach, that can support both human and process dynamics. A competence capable of supporting the evolution of human systems by creating suitable conditions for the expression of the group’s full potential. A role that allows bringing forth what is most useful for the evolution of the team or organisation navigating these turbulent waters.

While there is no single answer to these needs, in our work we have found that there is a key figure that can support organisations in overcoming today’s challenges. We ourselves have invested over a decade in developing mastery in this art.

We are talking about facilitation.

WHAT IS FACILITATION?

Facilitation, as we understand it at Cocoon Pro, is the discipline of:

“generating and evolving a safe space, so that others can achieve their goals”.

people working together around a table during a workshop and a wall with post-its

What makes facilitation unique is that it does not presume to have answers to all the challenges an organisation is facing, but position itself as an enabler of dynamics that allow making sense of these challenges and overcome them. For us, this is only possible through awareness and adherence to some crucial principles:

  • In complexity, there are no experts: whenever we are faced with complex problems that do not have a predetermined right or wrong answer, it is a waste of time, money and energy to believe that there can be an expert capable of providing a solution. It is not a question of how competent the expert may be, but the inherent impossibility of adopting pre-packaged solutions or relying on past knowledge in all situations where the problem is not purely technical. Challenges such as those listed in the previous paragraph are dense with infinite and unpredictable variables, making it impossible to analyse by breaking down the problem into parts as if it were a machine to fix.
  • Each system is unique: each team and organisation has its own identity that gives it unique traits, interacts in a unique context, constantly influencing each other, and is the result of a history and evolutionary tension that cannot be compared with any other system. This is not only to be respected, but also valued. It is crucial to find paths that are perfectly suited to the identity, context and trajectory of each individual human system, and not ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions.
  • Wisdom is in the system: the people who live the daily work dynamics of that particular team or company have a level of knowledge about their own reality that is impossible to find elsewhere. Often, this knowledge is hidden, tacit, and therefore not put to use. Knowing how to bring out all this wisdom is the only way to find solutions that work for that group and are not rejected once you try to implement them.

WHAT DOES A FACILITATOR DO?

A facilitator therefore plays a crucial role in change and development processes, acting as a catalyst and enabling the system, which can be a group, an organisation or a community, to find its own solutions.

“You have so many question marks and somehow you are looking for answers. In Cocoon Pro you never find a ready-made answer, but we found many tools that helped us in generating the answers and solutions we were looking for.”

– Pietro Cesati, fintech entrepreneur

a woman holding post-its while facilitating

The facilitator does not provide answers, but poses the right questions, stimulates dialogue, encourages reflection, brings tools and helps to recognise and express the skills and knowledge already present in the system.

The facilitator therefore enables and supports the process, but does not influence its course or outcome. Therefore, he or she is able to help the system to discover and experiment with what resonates most with its identity, trajectory and context. The goal is to bring out the best from your organisation, enhancing its internal resources and respecting its uniqueness and complexity.

This means recognising and celebrating diversity, stimulating collaboration, fostering learning and innovation, and moving towards sustainable and meaningful change.

To be able to do all this, a good facilitator is a person who has acquired several skills, including:

  • the ability to generate a psychologically safe space for the group;
  • the ability to bring out the real goals of the system, beyond those that might just be symptoms;
  • the ability to adequately design interventions that are both effective and engaging;
  • the ability to be self-centred and impartial;
  • the knowledge of different tools, techniques and methodologies applied in service of the operational outcome of the intervention;
  • the ability to read in real time in which direction the group’s energy is going and use it as an advantage for the entire system;
  • the ability to handle difficult situations such as the presence of conflict dynamics or the resistance from some individuals.

“In the preparation, everything was new; it was almost a leap in the dark, because Cocoon Pro’ approach to workshops was completely unfamiliar to me. I trusted, I took this little risk, but I was rewarded a hundred million times.”

– Manuela Matasconi, pharmaceutical sector leader

Being able to rely on a figure with such skills and capable of generating such value is one of the key differences today for an organisation that aspires to remain competitive and strive for excellence.

For this reason, facilitation is becoming very popular, with multiple options becoming increasingly available for those who want to learn how to facilitate or those who want to integrate into their team a figure with such skills.

However, as we have already mentioned when discussing the application of serious games, it is important to remember that the quality of the results that can be obtained depends directly on the quality of the facilitator. Training is a key aspect, and not all schools are equally up to the task. Even more importantly, years of experience in various contexts, combined with characteristics of human sensitivity and knowledge of complex dynamics, make the difference between a professional facilitator and an enthusiast who still has a long way to go.

A POSSIBLE PATH

In order to generate real value, it is necessary to have walked a long way and patiently cultivated the necessary experience.

This is what we believe in and are committed to at Cocoon Pro. Facilitation, in particular, is a discipline that we have been using and experimenting within the field for over 10 years, and recently we have started teaching it to those who want to learn this art. The path is laid out and already dozens of organisations have begun to walk it with us.

“For our organisation, training in facilitation is not an isolated event but the result of a precise strategic choice. Why? Facilitation is a powerful tool that not only offers a practical approach to tackling challenges of increasing complexity, but also allows us to improve our collaboration skills. We thank Cocoon Pro for providing us with this outstanding training opportunity!”

– Buildo, software company

In conclusion, in an increasingly complex and interconnected world, where challenges demand innovative and collaborative solutions, facilitation is an essential tool for organisational excellence. Those who choose to integrate this discipline into their organisation not only acquire skills that are useful for their work, but also embark on a journey of personal and systemic enrichment and growth.

If you are interested in understanding how facilitation can benefit your organisation, contact us and we will be happy to explore how to support you on your path toward excellence.


You might also be interested in reading: To learn how to facilitate, you need to dive in.


This article is part of the How we work series. You can also read this story in Italian and Spanish.

If you would like to receive updates on this and other topics related to the evolving world of work, subscribe to our newsletter here: https://cocoon-pro.com/#subscribe

If you would like to learn more, or bring this approach to your organisation, please contact us here: https://cocoon-pro.com/get-in-touch/

This is the account of our staff at Cocoon Pro. Wish to know who are the people in Cocoon curating our content production?Have a look at the people page on our website here. For any question or feedback we would be happy to hear from you! Reach out here: hello@cocoon-pro.com