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The Power of Transformative Facilitation

Reos Partners
August, 2021


Is collaboration extinct? It doesn’t have to be. In Adam Kahane’s new book, Facilitating Breakthrough: How to Remove Obstacles, Bridge Differences, and Move Forward Together, he introduces a new approach to enabling collaboration, one that works even on the most polarized issues. This approach is transformative facilitation and it focuses on removing obstacles to moving forward together. 

In the excerpt from Facilitating Breakthrough shared below, Adam provides a general introduction to transformative facilitation, and shares where and how to use it. While the approach is unconventional, Adam explains that it can be used by anyone who needs to enable  collaboration on a stuck issue—no matter what the topic, context, or size.

A General Theory and Practice of Transformative Facilitation

Transformative facilitation is a widely applicable approach to helping people collaborate to create change.

Where to use transformative facilitation

Transformative facilitation can help people collaborate in many contexts:

  • From across different backgrounds and different positions in different organizations, and so bringing different perspectives on, interests in, concerns about, and aspirations for the situation they are facing
  • In small or large groups, teams, departments, committees, and task forces
  • In all kinds of organizations, including companies, government agencies, educational and health care institutions, foundations, nonprofit organizations, and neighborhood and community associations, and in cross-organizational and multi-stakeholder alliances
  • To deal with all kinds of challenges—internal organizational, management, and cultural in addition to external business, economic, political, social, and environmental ones
  • At all scales—local, regional, national, and international

What transformative facilitation is and is not

Transformative facilitation is an unconventional approach to helping a group collaborate. It involves working through the purpose and objectives of the collaboration, who will participate in what roles, what process they will use, and what resources they will require, and reviewing and revising all these elements as the work unfolds.

Transformative facilitation is NOT:

  • Just the activity of standing at the front of a conference room or in the central window of a video conference. It includes all the activities involved in helping people move forward together, before, during, and in between meetings.
  • A process that has a fixed duration. It can last for a few hours or a few years.
  • A recipe. It is a way of working with groups and of discovering, one step at a time, what needs to be done.
  • A specific methodology. It is an approach that can be used with any collaborative change methodology.
  • A way of getting or pushing a group to advance. It is a way to remove the obstacles to their advancing on their own.
  • An approach that I invented. It is an approach that many excellent facilitators use, in part and implicitly, which in this book I map in full and explicitly.

Who can facilitate transformative facilitation

To emphasize the basics: transformative facilitation is facilitated by a facilitator. The role of a facilitator—or, more usually, a team of several facilitators dividing different parts of this role among them—is to strategize, organize, design, direct, coordinate, document, coach, and otherwise support the work of the group of people who are collaborating.

In general, a facilitator supports the group through focusing on and taking responsibility for the process the group is using, so that the group itself can focus on and take responsibility for the content of the work. The key point is that the group decides what they want to do and the facilitator supports them to do this. But this division of responsibilities is not always clear-cut: often the group needs to weigh in on the process, and sometimes the facilitator is involved and so has a relevant perspective on the content.

The role of the facilitator can be played by anyone who is willing and able, from time to time or on an ongoing basis, to help people collaborate to create change. A facilitator can be

  • A professional or an amateur
  • Someone who is given this role or who takes it
  • A leader, manager, staff member, volunteer, organizer, chairperson, consultant, coach, mediator, or friend
  • Someone who has a stake in the work at hand or is impartial
  • A member of the group that is collaborating or someone from outside

How to use this book

Transformative facilitation is a particular approach to helping people collaborate. I have written this book to provide guidance for everyone involved in such efforts: facilitators, the collaborators they are facilitating, people who initiate or sponsor such collaborations, and facilitation students and teachers. Everyone who is involved in a collaboration will benefit from understanding the theory and practice of transformative facilitation.

To read further, order your copy of Facilitating Breakthrough today.

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