The reason I’m addressing the topic is that many of us think that training done interactively is very close to or even the same as facilitation. It can feel like that but there is an essential and critical difference. This blog will cover those differences, talk about the benefits and when to use each mode. Also, I’ve made a short video for those of you who are thinking about when to hire a trainer versus a facilitator.
I have a bias, as I would say there are distinct advantages of using a process facilitator over a trainer in many more circumstances than you’d think. Yet I want you to know that I have great respect for many colleagues who are amazing interactive trainers and provide a great service to their clients. I also think I’m really good at training. However, there is a very specific time when trainers are best used and times when it’s better to use a facilitator. That is what I will try to clear up here.
If you are currently a trainer moving into the field of the facilitation, you might find this blog gives you the language to help your clients decide when to use you as a process facilitator versus a trainer.
We say this Blog is primarily for Stage 1 or the “Seeker” stage of the facilitator journey. However, I think it will be pretty interesting to the latter stages as well simply because you’ve wrestled with this. Many of us who own our own facilitation business or are employed within an organization to do OD work or process facilitation, are also called upon to clearly distinguish the difference between the two fields for prospective group work. It is up to you to know when one intervention is better than another.
What are the essential differences between training and facilitation?
There are five. I’m going to start first with the main emphasis of each field then move on to some of the structural, outcome and tone differences.
The essential first difference between the two fields is first and foremost that training is about passing on learning and content. The training provides theory, information and activities to share and help retain the information. On the other hand, process facilitation is about helping the thinking in a group. The main difference is in almost simplistic terms: training is about learning and facilitation is about thinking.
Here is a 2.5 minute video to explain this a bit more:
The second big difference is the trainer really has to offer quite a bit of content in large or small blocks. So the emphasis is on a hierarchical model where the trainer is the teacher and the learner is the student who supposedly knows less than the trainer. That might be the assumption of the student although it’s not necessarily the assumption of the trainer.
The facilitator model is based on collaboration. It is a group of peers who have come together who themselves have the content. They need a structure to think through the information they have in a way that will result in something new and different. The facilitator provides the tools, structure, flow, calm, presence and energy to guide the group.
The third is that the trainer is really helping the group to apply the content he or she has given them. So the training would ideally contain a lot of demonstrating, practicing, and reinforcing of the concepts that have been shared.
In the facilitator model the emphasis is more on communicating. It is about helping team members share their data points, understand one another, build cohesiveness of ideas and find ways to solve problems. It is not the role of the facilitator to reinforce any concepts. However, many training techniques can be applied in facilitation settings to help the group be more successful in “cementing” a decision, for example.
The forth difference is in the design. I hope I’m not offending any trainers by my choice of words. But because training or education comes from a hierarchical model, there tends to be more of a linear plan in the trainers’ outline. You decide what the learning outcomes are, you design your activities and content accordingly. And likely you rarely vary up that plan once you’ve tested and finalized your curriculum. It works well!
In contrast, the facilitator always has to have a flexible agenda. They simply cannot predict what is going to happen as a result of a tool being used that changes where the group may need to go or decides to go. No matter how much you interview beforehand and how you do your research, your job as the process facilitator is always to remain adaptable. You are changing and adapting in the moment. You are helping the group do some complex weaving of their thinking.
The final difference between the trainer and the facilitator I feel, is that the trainer is really focused on achieving a longer-term outcome. They know that one day or two days or even five days of training is not going to necessarily have an immediate impact. The concepts have to be continually reinforced, practiced, refined for each situation. If this is done well, in the long term, you will see some change. However, when the person and or the organization does not do anything to reinforce the concepts, then all that is taught is lost!
The facilitator has more of an emphasis on the short term. The result may be e.g., an immediate decision or an immediate consensus. The result could simply be a profound discussion with your colleagues about something that needs to change. When you were doing planning, although the result is an immediate documented plan, it may take a number of years to implement. In general as a process facilitator, you’re looking for short-term insights and often immediate results.
My questions to you now:
- What words would you use to describe the differences?
- How can we help HR and OD leaders make the right choice in deciding when and how to use a training format versus a facilitated process format?
- Which field do you prefer and why?