After a guest lecture at a major US university, I recently had a follow-up conversation with a graduate student. The discussion centered on the overlaps of effective technical communication with decision makers and facilitating different types of problem solving.
Here are a few of the questions and answers.
Are good communicators also good facilitators?
No. Effective communication is necessary for good technical communication and good facilitation; however, both are unique in their scope. And facilitation is a unique craft.
As a technical advisor, the decision maker controls what you present and the time you have to do it. As a facilitator, you control most of the logistical aspects but are also there to cater to the participants.
The common denominator is the causal relationships of FINESSE.
How does the FINESSE concept apply to both communication and facilitation?
Yes, Frame, Illustrate, Noise reduction, Empathy, Structure, Synergy, and Ethics are the seven causal factors that produce effective communication. Because communication is a system, all seven bones of the FINESSE fishbone (cause and effect) diagram must be within a reasonable tolerance.
FINESSE applies to facilitation too. But on top of FINESSE, the facilitators have some different responsibilities and need five additional skills to be great facilitators.
How are the communication and facilitation roles different?
Both require effective communication. Effective technical communication involves writing reports and making presentations to decision makers. You are a trusted advisor. As a facilitator, you lead a group of people to solutions that are created, understood, and accepted by all. In that role, you are less of a technical trusted advisor and more of an expeditor.
What are some of the roles of facilitators that differ from trusted advisors?
As a facilitator, you control the agenda more and make more process decisions. Most trusted advisors show up where and when requested and provide information that decision makers specifically want to hear. Specifically, some of the basic responsibilities of a facilitator are:
Prepare in advance - who, what, why, where, and how
Plan and distribute the agenda
Define objectives at the beginning of the event
Establish expectations with the executive sponsor and participants
Guide the group in presenting and sharing information
Provide closure and reiterate action items
Facilitators can often get cornered into a wider range of activities, such as notifying participants, reserving meeting space, bringing snacks, and providing session summaries.
What are the additional skills that facilitators need?
In addition to FINESSE, facilitators need competency in the:
Conducting pre-session information exchanges
Asking powerful questions
Handling trouble (disruptions)
Providing engaging exercises
Controlling the rhythm
I use the mental model CATER (Communicate, Ask, Troubles, Exercises, and Rhythm).
Does Communicating with FINESSE community also advise on facilitation?
Yes. And usually in the areas I mentioned at the end of the lecture.
Root Cause Analysis
Failure Modes & Effects Analysis
Capital Program Prioritization
Risk Management Plans
JD Solomon Inc provides facilitation, asset management, and program development solutions at the nexus of facilities, infrastructure, and the environment. Founded by JD Solomon, Communicating with FINESSE is the community of technical professionals dedicated to being highly effective trusted advisors and getting the boss's boss to understand. Learn more about our publications, webinars, and workshops. Join the community for free.