When training new facilitators, a concept I want them to “get” early on is the difference between content and process.
Folks who are drawn to become facilitators and mediators tend to be interested in the underlying dynamics of group process. It’s easy, when learning a new facilitation technique or meeting structure, to want to use it everywhere. (When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.) Our clients, though, aren’t thinking about process. They have a problem to solve or a task to accomplish – they are concerned with the content. They have a deliverable they need at the end of the day.
- If content is the story, process is the medium through which it is expressed. (For example, the Goldilocks story can be told in a book, a movie, a painting, a cartoon, a song.)
- Content is what you say, process is how you say it.
- Content is why you’re meeting, process is what you do to achieve that goal.
- Content is where you’re going, process is how you get there. (I can go to the store on foot, on my bike, in my car.)
- Content is the problem you’re trying to solve, process refers to the tools you use to accomplish it.
Understanding and explaining this dichotomy is an important skill for facilitators. A facilitator must be neutral about content, but is the expert on process. In preparing for a meeting or event, the facilitator needs to know just enough about the client’s content in order to choose the right process to achieve it. Throughout the meeting, the facilitator needs to attend to both – and be prepared to switch processes if the content goal is not being achieved.