Facilitating versus Teaching; Creating versus Learning
Any time a group of people spend time together, they learn from each other. And whenever we bring people together to solve a problem or create something new, they need to learn new things – ideas, language, tools, perspectives – to do so.
But even though people need to learn things in order to work with us, that doesn’t mean it is our job to teach them. On the contrary, our job is to facilitate that learning.
First consider the fundamental behaviors of a facilitator and those of a teacher. They both spend much of their day asking questions, but with utterly different expectations. A teacher will rarely ask a question without already knowing the answer; a facilitator should never ask a question if he or she already knows the answer.
A teacher’s purpose in querying participants is to share knowledge (which the student who has been called on might know; otherwise the teacher provides the answer) and to test how prepared the students are.
A facilitator’s question, on the other hand, is grounded in curiosity. A facilitator really wants to know why medical plans can’t be as simple as cell phone plans. A facilitator wants to know why, based on archaic contracts, a million dollar event required me to collect $10 at the lunch line from each participant (so they could enjoy a soggy tuna melt).
A facilitator simply wants to know why your customer experience isn’t as simple as Uber’s. These questions aren’t intended to teach; they’re intended to help the facilitator – and through the facilitator, all the participants – to learn what the issues are and why their solutions are not obvious.
When knowledge transfer is a necessary element of our events, we find mechanisms other than ‘teaching’ to help participants absorb what they need to learn. We put people into small teams to learn from each other – with or without an ‘expert’; we provide posters, books, articles, and pictures for people to sift through and decide what is important; we send them into the field to do their own research.
In sum, we put knowledge in their way and let them stumble over it. We don’t teach.