The Power of Facilitation

I’m truly excited to share in this post a gem I have discovered in the last year. Facilitation.  It has the potential to harness greater potential of people we work and live with. It recognises the power of questions. And it is a life skill.

The organisation that has brought this into my life is the Facilitators Network Singapore (FNS), which was founded by Prabu Naidu and Janice Lua.  I wanted to share the idea of facilitation to people fairly new to it so I thank Prabu for kindly agreeing to this interview. (I’m also listing this post under my “Singapore’s Hidden Gems” category because I think people travelling to Singapore could check out if any of the workshops appeal to them. Why not pick up some skills when travelling?)

Prabu in action (Image credit: FNS)

Prabu has 19 years of experience with multi-national corporations and 12 years of experience in facilitating, training and consulting work in organisational development. He holds a Masters in Organisational Behaviour and is an International Association of Facilitators Certifed Professional Facilitator and an International Institute for Facilitation Certified Master Facilitator.  AND my ears pricked up during a session when he said he’s a facilitative parent. What’s that? Read on! 

What’s the difference between process facilitation and training?

In training, the guru in front bring content (knowledge and skills) to the learners. With process facilitation, the person in front does not bring content but helps the group move towards an outcome. A facilitative trainer would deliver content in an engaging manner and involve the learners in the process.

Could you explain using an analogy?

It is like an open sea fisherman who brings his boat out to sea. He then selects a spot and casts his net into the waters. He waits awhile and then draws in the net. As the water drains out, he will see his entire catch. In the net will be all sizes and types of fishes, prawns, crabs, sea shells, sea plants, debris, and occasionally a rare find of something precious (like a sunken treasure or may be a ‘mermaid’ or a ‘merman’). When facilitating a group or when leading a discussion, it is important to allow the group to share what’s on their mind first and then help them move towards some form of conclusion. This is called divergence-convergence in facilitation.

An insight many of us could learn from?

Simply because there may be a lot of ‘noise’ and poor ideas does not mean that we cut-off ideas from everyone during a brainstorming session. One of the rules of brainstorming is that no idea is a bad idea. All ideas are noted down. Evaluation of the ideas can happen later. In the beginning, all ideas are flip charted exactly as spoken. From these ideas, may appear that treasure: a ‘mermaid’ or ‘merman’ idea that could prove to be the saviour for the group (or organisation).
What’s the value to organisations in using a facilitative approach? Could you give an example?
The current generation of knowledge workers prefer to be consulted and involved in decision making. No one person has all the answers. Facilitative approach engages everyone.

One manager I know, used to make all the decisions and then informed his staff to carry them out. He found that the staff were doing bare minimum to get by. They were operating in a compliant mindset. On my suggestion, he changed his approach and included his staff in some key decision making. Initially the staff were cautious with the change in his style but later when they realised his true intentions, they were forthcoming and actually performed beyond his expectations. They were now operating from a commitment mode. Engaging them turned them into ardent supporters of his plans as they feel valued.  

Participants get off their feet and become active learners. (Image credit: FNS)

What would training using a facilitation approach look like?
A facilitative trainer would ask questions and allow the learners to share their own wisdom and past experiences and arrive at the learning objectives. There will be evidence of the group doing most of the work. The trainer speaks less and need not appear as knowing all the answers. Definitely no ‘death by PowerPoint’ presentations and one way speaking!
Under what conditions and what kind of leaders are best able to create a culture where facilitation processes can bring out the best in employees?
The first and foremost is, in my opinion, the willingness of leaders to trust their people as able and willing. Next is for them to be ready to hear what may appear as bad news but therein lies the opportunity to educate themselves and their people.

To what extent are you harnessing collective intelligence at your workplace? (Image credit: FNS)
If you are a leader, how can you be more open to ideas from your staff?

There might be fears of allowing people to think for themselves. What’s your response to this?
If people are able to run their own affairs and families, then they should be able to run workplaces and the community too. I believe that if people are given their boundaries and allowed to shape their actions, most times (not all the time) people rise to the occasion.

One powerful point that came up for me was that facilitation isn’t restricted to work settings when we’re formally facilitating a group. It is a life-skill.
Yes it is.
You mentioned that you have become a more facilitative parent and that one conversation which may take a few minutes using a top-down approach may take 30 minutes taking a facilitative approach. So how would you explain the value to time-stretched parents…What might a conversation with a young person look like using a facilitative approach? And what impact have you noticed in your own experience?
Yes it is time consuming. On the other hand, as parents – no matter how much time stretched we may be –isn’t our primary duty to help our children shape their attitudes and beliefs to become responsible citizens? The cost to society to correct wayward adults is greater than investing time in being facilitative parents when they are young and impressionable.

The conversation will be one of asking questions to find out what and why of their position. Then instead of directing them, offer and discuss the various options and the consequences of each. Let them make the decision – so long as it is legal, ethical, and moral!

I have two boys who I believe are turning out to be responsible young adults.

How else has facilitation impacted on your life?
Nowadays  I tend to be more asking and consultative with colleagues, family and friends. Much different from my earlier style when I was very much directive and forceful in my approach!

Allowing people to be part of creating their own solutions and ideas can unleash the kind of innovation and productivity we are striving for.

The Facilitators Network Singapore website has a listing of upcoming workshops. 

Related: Free Spirit

Places: Singapore Quarry

If you want a gentle walk, nearby places to get good food, a peek at some of our wildlife and a really beautiful view of a disused quarry, head over to Singapore Quarry, near Rail Mall.

Beauty, far from the maddening crowds
This was quite a sight! White-bellied sea eagle, carrying a branch. Building a nest?
How wonderful it would be if we looked at some of our human migrants and migrant workers with the same fascination and interest we extend to migrating birds...
Can you spot the White-throated Kingfisher? He sat still for a pretty long time. I joined him and sat and closed my eyes for a while. Nature can be very healing...
This was the one thing that concerned me there. Koi (and other) fish released by members of the public. This endangeres our eco-system.
The road less travelled holds surprising views and treasures...are you enjoying where your road is taking you?

After the walk, friends and I walked over to Sunny Choice at Rail Mall for a lovely organic vegetarian meal.

Don't recall what I ate but it was yummy!
Organic Tahu Goreng

Sunny Choice is at 434 Upper Bukit Timah, Rail Mall. Tel: 6892-2383. They also sell healthy snacks and other sundries.

To get to Singapore Quarry, park at Rail Mall, walk towards Jln Asas and look for the signages.

Dialogue in the Dark

Doorway to Empathy


“The only way to learn is by encounter” Martin Buber,  Philosopher

Dialogue in the Dark at Ngee Ann Polytechnic is a transformational simulation experience of vision impairment. For about an hour, we are in total darkness, have a white cane and make our way around a darkened maze, only through the voice of a vision impaired guide.

It was conceived by Ashoka Fellow Andreas Heinecke.

“Andreas is concerned with people who are marginalized regardless of whether they come from a different ethnicity, are disabled, or are elderly. Rather than trying to focus on and serve that marginalized group, however, he focuses on the interaction between “them” and “us.” By building platforms where the disabled guide the non-disabled, he is bringing understanding, fascination and even delight across the groups by forcing interaction that go beyond stereotypes, prejudices and fears.” (Source:

Although I used to work with vision impaired people, and had been blindfolded as part of my staff training, this experience was the best simulation I’ve undergone. I felt helpless, afraid, appreciative, in awe and excited by such a creative initiative.

Most importantly, I was reminded of the importance of walking around in the shoes of other people.

Worth going to with your family and friends if you want to do something fun, different and growth-promoting. Please check with the people at DID if you have special safety needs.

My entry in the guestbook

Learn more about Andreas and Dialogue in the Dark.