How to facilitate leadership

How to facilitate leadership

Team building activities are very good for facilitating leadership because they can bring leadership to the fore in clear and uncontrived ways that the whole team can understand and relate to. In tasks leadership can be assigned or you can leave the hierarchy open to see who comes forward as a leader. The third way is to run the task ‘leaderless’. This is increasingly relevant to the way that teams are managed.

In the last 20 years the trend has been to move away from charismatic leadership, or the so called ‘great man’ theory. This defines leadership in a Churchillian mold; one who can lead troops by force of personality and big speeches. Now leaders tend to be more defined as people who can get the job done, much to the relief of the average manager.

The final development is leaderless teams. These are very democratic teams where the work is shared and no-one takes the overall leadership role. This is the ultimate evolution of focusing on getting the job done; leadership is shared and there is a high level of responsibility shown by all members of the team.

Understanding the nature of the team you are working with is important when trying to extract the take home benefit of the activity. If the team is having fun and letting off steam it can be fun to try the old fashioned Churchillian leadership style. More often than not the flaws of this approach are exposed and that can lead to interesting insights for the team.

There is an established idea that team building events put everyone on an equal level, whether they make the tea or own the company and that sometimes it can be interesting to see how the lowest warehouse worker leads the board of directors. The reality is that this rarely happens. More often than not the teams we work with are more of less on an equal level. I cannot remember a time when this dynamic, as amusing as it might be to conjure up, was ever put into practice on the field.

How to facilitate leadership

First of all remember the difference between a facilitator and a trainer. A facilitator is not there to dictate knowledge; he or she is there to help the team extract the relevant lesson from the activity.


Where, how and by whom was leadership shown? Don’t ask this as one question but break it down, for example:-

Where was leadership shown?
If they don’t naturally progress to it, prompt; ‘who showed it?’
And then; ‘how did they show it?’

Let that discussion run its course, then prompt if necessary:-

Was it effective?
Could it have been done differently or better?

Then onto the questions which really give take home benefit:-

How does this reflect the way leadership is shown at work?
What lessons do you take from this?
What could you take back to work?

It is better to start with general discussion and move onto the work linked questions, because these may be harder to discuss and starting with them may be too abrupt. Activities can depersonalise issues and, as such, act as a catalyst or a channel to get to the more important issues.

If the discussion moves into a different area, don’t be too rigid but allow it to flow. Having said that the facilitator must have an eye on timing and set the pace along with the team. That is a judgement call and a key facilitation skill. At the end of the exercise encourage the team to summarise what was learned and what they will take away with them. Less is often more, one or two powerful points is better than a list.

Instructors are often wary of facilitation, thinking that some sort of expertise is needed. In fact it’s more about having the right attitude, a relaxed almost conversational style and understanding that you are essentially there to help the team to get the most out of the activity.

1 Comment

  1. lynnfergusonpinet · August 15, 2013 Reply

    Great article, I facilitate discussions all the time and find your material really helpful to continually improve. I do support your statements about hierarchy, either the boss takes over like it or not or the team is democratic, likely because the manager is making a conscious effort not to lead. Rarely if ever do you see the hierarchy inverted.

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