Collaborate To Innovate

The role of a facilitator

Iris Lubberink is a writer from the Netherlands who explores a world that is unknown to her. In this article Iris took it upon her to interview Marcella van Eijndhoven from STUDIO.WHY about what it means to be a good facilitator.

And this is what you will learn more about in this post.

The next step in my quest for knowledge at STUDIO.WHY I met up with Marcella. She, amongst other things, takes on the role of facilitator within STUDIO.WHY. During this conversation I learned what it means to be a facilitator and how valuable a good facilitator is to a group that is trying to achieve their goals.


STUDIO.WHY is active in many branches and organizations. There are trainings for the Ministry of Defense, as well as construction companies and health care. Even though the diversity is great within their clients, their focus is always the same: Developing human skillsets and entrepreneurial mindsets. No matter the sector, everywhere there are organizations and they all contain people. And all these people contain a set of skills they put to use and develop withing field of work.

What is a facilitator?

STUDIO.WHY Facilitator Ramila working on a brainstormTo develop your skills in a training, you need a facilitator. But what does a facilitator do, exactly? Marcella is leading expert at STUDIO.WHY when it comes to facilitating. She gave me an insight in the diverse set of tasks and importance of a facilitator. A facilitator really wants to make a lasting change by teaching a group of people. STUDIO.WHY wants to do two things: inspire and activate people. The inspiring part is an energetic part. The fun activities that give people a rush. When activating a group of people you look at ones behavior. How might some behavior be adapted or improved? It doesn’t necessarily have to be better, but there is always a way of looking at someone’s behavior to learn from. A facilitator plays an important role in this process.

Where it comes to content within a training and its trainer, the energy of the group is key when it comes to facilitating. A facilitator looks at what happens between the members of the group, both verbally as nonverbally. Facilitating is the actual guiding of a group during trainings and workshops. Participants need to have a good time but they also need to learn, which is a facilitators responsibility. A project manager focusses on the content. Without a facilitator a group might get carried away within the content and be more focused on achieving the end goal, than having a good experience throughout the process. A facilitator focusses on the experience of the group. How are they going through the steps of the workshop? Wat happens with the people? It is important to look at what happens between the members of the group. When people have a conversation, internally a lot happens. They might get distracted. It is a facilitators task to make sure this goes smoothly. By observing different interactions and looking at body language it is possible to see if participants are engaged or not. By analyzing these interactions a facilitator makes sure that the process of the training goes well.

As soon as a group of wants to achieve their goals it is pertinent that a facilitator is present. There are two elements that play an important role: Content and experience. As a person you need both. When you feel responsible for a strong content, there is a risk that you focus too much on it. The experience of a training is just as important. The experience needs to be positive to make a lasting impact. Therefor it is crucial that people don’t focus too much on the content for the experience to go to waste. When participants have a positive experience in a training, they maintain a positive association with it and the content is connected to this. This way a lasting impact is created.

STUDIO.WHY Facilitator MarjoleijnAs a facilitator you are the groups’ mirror and you act in a metalevel. Within the interactions of people you can see discussions arise, because they are miscommunicating. Every participant has his’ or hers own communication style. It is possible that two participants have the feeling they are addressing an important subject, while both subject differ from each other. Without reflecting it will look like they are not agreeing with each other. What they don’t realize is that they are both talking about a different subject. They are speaking a different language and that gets frustrating, because they don’t understand each other. It can be difficult to be the mirror for someone and show them that they are speaking in different languages. As a facilitator this is your task. You have the strength to address people their behavior and to reflect on this together, this way they can learn from their behavior. When people keep giving the same answers in a conversation, the conversation doesn’t lead to mutual understanding. And the training process stagnates. As a facilitator you reflect the process of the interaction back to the participants. This is called “soundboxing” by Marcella. She repeats what the person says and asks questions. What do you think of this? What are you really saying? The facilitator makes sure people stay on topic and looks at what is needed to proceed in the interaction.

What to do and what not to do.

Because of the fact that a facilitator is constantly working with different levels of interaction, it is a extremely intense and challenging task. Therefor there are a few do’s and don’ts.


  1. 065_20190401_Studiowhy_Woningnood_1845_3058_LR.jpgCreate a safe environment. This starts even before the session starts. It’s about welcoming the people and setting the ambiance in the room. But it’s also about getting to know each other as a person. Who is someone besides work? You have to create a safe space for people to speak up. This requires an approachable facilitator, who can read the room. There should be a match between energies of the facilitator and the group. A facilitator is humble, modest and a good listener. The group needs to shine and is in the spotlight, not the facilitator.
  2. Be over prepared, but under structured. A facilitator should be extremely well prepared. You need the whole plan in your head, but don’t be afraid to deviate from this plan. Things go as they go. There are always emotions and sentiment within a group. And when this stagnates the process, you can’t just keep moving. You need to attend to the situation. And your toolkit is full for you to use, because you are well prepared. Sometimes you need to slow down to speed up and when your focus is only on content there is no room to slow down, because you have a goal to achieve. A facilitator acts upon the current situation. And when a situation occurs that has value, it should be addressed. A facilitator is responsible for the process, but not the result. There are agreements with the commissioner of the challenge, because the goal needs to be clear. What does the commissioner wants to achieve with the session? A program is made form this, but the facilitator uses what happens in the current situation.
  3. Always think: Wow, that’s interesting! Assumptions are a dangerous thing for a facilitator. By thinking “Wow, that’s interesting!”, you prevent a situation to be interpreted the wrong way. A facilitator needs to understand what is happening. By making wrong assumptions an important process might be missed. To discover a deeper layer within the participants, it is important to give room to someone else’s vision. This is done by soundboxing: naming the behavior and asking questions.
  4. Social interactions between people are getting more and more important. And these social interactions are of high value to organizations. A facilitator is an expert in this matter and makes sure the process goes smoothly. A facilitator is in charge of making things fun and creating a positive experience. In every session the role of a facilitator is of added value. It creates answers, insights and support to social interactions. And by developing these social interactions, people grow.


  1. Don’t overcrowd a team. This is actually a strength. As a facilitator you want to distance yourself a little, but try to stay close enough to understand what they are talking about. By overcrowding a team or subject, the participants won’t feel comfortable. It is important to observe a natural interaction. This is done by observing from a distance and letting them go their own way.
  2. Don’t let your emotions affect the groups’. A facilitator needs to anticipate on the groups’ energy. When you have had a bad night it shouldn’t affect the process of the group. You are always honest and authentic, but you are a mirror to the group. You anticipate on the energy of the group, not your own.
  3. Don’t stretch too much. When you want a team to go outside of their comfort zone, you can definitely push them, but not too much. A facilitator needs to know who he or she is dealing with and if the team wants to work with a certain methodology. When you make a mismatch in methodology and the wishes of a team, they might get disengaged.
  4. Don’t want too much in one session. People tend to want too much in a short period of time, but a complex problem can’t be solved in half an hour. Time needs to be managed. When a group wants to talk about something this needs to be timeboxed. A facilitator makes room for the subject and then continues the training process.

"A facilitator really wants to make a lasting change by teaching a group of people."

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