Six Dimensions of Facilitator Style

a brief history

At the end of an intensive period of research and development, John Heron took a sabbatical and wrote up his findings in a series of booklets. This was an extraordinarily productive time in which he developed further his 6CIA model by applying it to groups. Whilst it was clear that interactions with individuals in groups could still be described by the 6CIA model, there were higher order transactions to be dealt with. Nevertheless the same issues of facilitation were there: decision-making and contracting norms and procedures, understanding the group process, confronting inappropriate, ineffective behaviour already understood or blind spots to be explored, management of emotional charge and the whole realm of personal development in the group, creatively developing the process of the group and living fully our humanity in the group setting. It was clear that open democratic groups would manage all these issues by trial and error or by contracting on each of these issues. A traditional educational and training group would have the teacher or trainer in charge of all issues. But what about the spectrum of possibilities between these extremes? How far might a facilitator draw in or delegate these issues to a group? In which settings would some degree of participation by group members be valid? When might complete delegation be valid?

six dimensions set out

To some extent we can envisage a dimension of leadership and facilitation stretching from autocratic, via democratic to laissez-fare. We can also consider applying a catalytic style to each of the six issues, from explicit to implicit. It is a strong position to deliberately empower people and deal with the emotional effects of liberation, rather than stifle members' intelligence and power by over-controlling everything.

decision-making and power

It seems clear that empowering people to manage their own way in an educational setting will lead to people able to manage groups or play their part in decision-making groups in which they work and play at least by osmosis - the natural effect of direct experience. Too much direction on the part of the group leader can lead to boredom, disempowerment or rebellion. Too little direction can lead to a group losing its way. Conscious selection of a new point in the decision-making continuum with subsequent review can directly empower people as group participants and as peer learners. Later John developed the “Peer Learning Community” out of this work as a basis for the long version of the training.

understanding groups

Does the teacher raise issues of how a group is acting, offer models to engage in and enquire about, elicit from group members their ideas or leave it to the group to find their own insights without help? Here Heron explored the range of models and options for educational groups initially, and for work groups later.

aberrant group behaviour

Once understanding of the nature of quality behaviour in groups has been developed, members should ideally agree and conform to appropriate norms and standards. In practice, it may be hard to break old habits, so mechanisms need to be applied to raise conciousness and remind people about their behaviour directly or indirectly.

feeling in groups

The traditional group mirrors society. We live in a largely non-cathartic culture and an educational system which largely ignores feelings, emphasising intellect at the expense of emotion. Experience of bringing co-counselling to the University and promoting it as a liberating strategy for experiential learning in Continental Europe, gave John a basis for exploring how to enable group members to open to their emotional life. He had made a start in the Six Category model, by incorporating effective processes from co-counselling into the role of a counsellor, tutor or other professional. In practice, the full extent of the range of cathartic interventions would only be applied in therapeutic settings or in co-counselling communities. His experience of running explicitly cathartic groups gave him a clear understanding of the spectrum of options in this dimension and he set about documenting them. This is not a prescription to open all groups to all feelings of all intensities, but once again a set of options to suit every group. Some groups may be invited to reflect on the emotional experience of their group with a view to adopting more supportive process. Others may be invited to explore step by step till they arrive at a level they need for their specific agenda.

processes and procedures

In a task oriented society, it seems essential that with some understanding of effective and ineffective group processes, that a group use some well-worked process or procedure to enable the task to be completed more effectively and efficiently. In a learning group, especially one in which the task is to develop interpersonal skills or engage in personal development, there is a huge range of structuring options. Again, a facilitator can introduce them or a group can request them. The range of catalytic interventions comes into this dimension as well.

appreciation and disclosure

Positive self-image of individuals and how positively a group sees itself are as vital as in one-to-one situations. Research has demonstrated that this is a vital basis for any learning group. In the end, we all want our groups to be positive about each other, to welcome achievement and learning, and to appreciate diversity of culture, religion, race, ability, accomplishment, and ideosyncracy of personal style, not just tolerate it. In his 6CIA, John put disclosure (of similar experience) as a strongly supportive intervention, when used appropriately. In a group, once form is decided and shaped, there may be opportunities for the facilitator to join in as participant, more disclosing and supportive, even showing the way by modelling the process. He also saw a clear, supportive and encouraging presence as essential in both one-to-one and group relations, which in the sense of not making a verbal disclosure, is non-disclosing yet also fully human.


John developed a training process for people to learn about the model to apply in their own settings in their own way for their own groups. This became a cornerstone of our programme: 2 day, 3-day, 5 day introductions, advanced trainings and later training the trainers courses were developed. Again, the principal value in these offers was to promote the criteria of excellence distilled out of years of enquiry at the HPRP, and demonstrate and train others to the highest possible standards of experiential facilitation. Since the model was not prescriptive in the sense that it told facilitators what to do and since it was a tool to expose options and opportunities, it has been adopted widely and with great success. It provides extraordinary flexibility to the facilitator for their operations, to adapt to their own limits and skills, to their group members‘ limits and skills, and for their development and that of their groups.

long facilitator styles course

In the light of the importance of training facilitators to the highest possible standard for the public and private sectors, this training was extended into a 2-year part-time course of 120 days. This was validated by the Institute for the Development of Human Potential (IDHP) of which John was a founding member. Naturally the Surrey version of the course used the core models developed and applied at the HPRP along with other humanistic and transpersonal models presented by exemplary facilitators, often International experts in their field. This was an intensive course, for experienced facilitators, professionals, community leaders as well as parents, who are perhaps the most important facilitators of all.

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