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The fast facilitator – review


Title: The Fast Facilitator: 76 Facilitator Activities and Interventions Covering Essential Skills, Group Processes and Creative Techniques
Authors: Anthony Landale and Mica Douglas
Publisher: Gower
Year: April 2002
ISBN: 0 566 08393 0
Price: £195.00

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'The Fast Facilitator' is an A4 loose-leaf manual of 148 pages comprising three main sections: Essential Facilitation, Groups and Team Facilitation and Creative Facilitation. Each of the 30 chapters of 'The Fast Facilitator' covers four distinct areas: Theory, Activities, Coaching and Facilitator Self-development.

The authors - Anthony Landale and Mica Douglas - are experienced counsellors and trainers in facilitation. Landale also edits People Performance Magazine and the Gower Handbook of Training and Development.

'The Fast Facilitator' is targeted at three audiences: trainers, managers and consultants. The manual is based on the authors' premise that 'The pressing challenge that many managers, consultants and trainers face is how to harness potential and engender responsibility in individuals and teams so that targets can be reached and tasks achieved' and their claim that 'Facilitation is an effective solution here.' This claim is seductive but raises unrealistically high expectations of both facilitation itself and what a manual such as this can deliver.

The need to address the diverse requirements of three readership groups creates an ambitious challenge for Landale and Douglas. They have addressed that challenge effectively concerning the needs of trainers: there is a lot of useful and interesting material here and the practical activities are particularly well geared to those who are training others in the art and craft of facilitation. Indeed, almost all of the 76 Facilitator Activities of the title appear to be targeted specifically for this purpose.

Individual managers trying to understand the importance of facilitation and to develop and practice their skills, however, will find 'The Fast Facilitator' less useful. Whilst the introduction to each chapter provides a succinct summary of the theoretical issues and the short section on 'Facilitator self-development' may be of interest to a motivated manager, it is difficult to imagine a busy manager finding the time that would be necessary to adapt the group-oriented Activities for her own use as an individual. In effect, they would find little practical use for 60 of the manual's 148 pages.

For trainers, the issue-focus of 'The Fast Facilitator' will be one of its main strengths. Readers are helped to navigate the manual by the inclusion of an alphabetical 'Key issues quick guide' at the beginning that covers subjects like 'Beginnings and endings', 'Emotional expression', 'Power' and 'Trust'. Each entry includes a number of suggestions for exploring the subject in the text.

In a manual which aims to cover such a wide range of subjects, striking the balance between breadth and depth of coverage is inevitably difficult. The authors manage this balance reasonably well but there are a few areas where further information would have been particularly helpful. One such area is the chapter on 'When and how to intervene'. Landale and Douglas address this issue with only one page of theory and two Activities and the glimpse they offer is simply too brief to do justice to the subject. Some practical examples in this section are needed to help readers think about how to apply in practice the core skills the authors identify in the theory section.
One of the most intriguing aspects of 'The Fast Facilitator' are the suggestions for further reading.

Landale and Douglas provide wide-ranging and stimulating suggestions at the end of each chapter. They cover standard texts such as John Heron's 'The Complete Facilitator's Handbook' and make more esoteric suggestions such as Starhawk's 'The Fifth Sacred Thing'. I enjoy being signposted to new authors and books - reading reference lists is a bit like having a look through a new acquaintance's bookshelves - and I found a lot of references that were new to me among the authors' recommendations. However, I find it useful to have a bit more information than just the title and author to entice me to follow up unfamiliar references. Whilst some of the suggestions for further reading are described elsewhere in the text, the references would benefit from a short annotation to explain why the authors chose to include each title. This would help to encourage readers to follow up on some of the fascinating-sounding but less familiar references.

Unfortunately, even the interested reader would find some of the references lacking in enough basic detail to facilitate follow up. For example, on page 10 the self-development section suggests "Play 'The Transformation Game' available from Findhorn" but gives no further detail about what the game is or where to get hold of it. Search engine-savvy readers may be able to follow up on this type of brief reference, but the authors could have made it easier for all readers by providing them with the Findhorn Foundation's contact details such as the website address ( where more information about the game is readily available.

The overall design of The Fast Facilitator is more pleasing to the eye than many of Gower's other loose-leaf manuals but, unfortunately, the layout is irritatingly impractical for training purposes. One might reasonably expect the advantages of the loose-leaf format to be exploited with the end-user in mind: it should enable the user to remove a specific page (an activity or an introduction on theory, say) and photocopy it for use as a handout. Why else would you pay £195.00 for 148 pages? However, the design of 'The Fast Facilitator' demonstrates no such concern for 'user-friendliness': some pages contain more than one activity and some activities that could be contained on one page are allowed to over-run to two pages. Further pages contain both an activity and another section of the chapter. I was left wondering why this publication was produced in the form of a loose-leaf binder at all - in its current layout it has few of the advantages that loose-leaf formats usually provide and may as well be in a (cheaper) book format, with a comprehensive index.

Despite the design shortcomings, 'The Fast Facilitator' is a useful contribution to the literature on facilitation. If you are training others in facilitation you will find a great deal that is of practical value here (though you may find that the layout limitations make using the Activity material not as 'fast' as the title suggests). If you are a consultant involved in coaching others to develop their facilitation skills, you may find enough in 'The Fast Facilitator' to justify the purchase. The interested manager, however, would be better advised to look elsewhere for a practical introduction to developing and using their own facilitation skills.

Bruce Britton


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