• Iwona Wilson

Facilitator or Trainer - is there any difference?

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

What an exciting times we live in !

The world of work is changing rapidly, putting more focus on people and on how we can work and communicate better together.

Access to new processes, technologies, the impact of globalization, working remotely, enable each of us to grow into new markets faster and to connect with even more people and more communities than ever before.


Understanding how to work with groups of people so they can produce outstanding results has never been more challenging, nor crucial to achieving success.


So what is the role of a facilitator today, in fast changing environment?


Sadly, the business world has been far too slow in recognizing facilitation as a key methodology for change. The word “facilitation” has evolved in such way that it means different things to different people and is often used incorrectly by trainers, managers and even CEO’s.


You could almost say that “to facilitate” became fluffy and does not have one meaning.


Let me give you some examples:


  • A trainer would nowadays say “I have been facilitating all day long today”, meaning I have been teaching (when you teach, you have the responsibility for the outcome; you apply “facilitative approach” by engaging your students in learning, but you are not a facilitator!)

  • A manager would say: “I am a facilitator for my team to create a long term plan, meaning “I am a team leader (in facilitation we believe that you can not facilitate your own team as there might a conflict of interest)

  • A CEO says: “I am facilitating positive relationships with other companies from our industry, meaning “I am engaging with other companies/I am promoting positive relationships, etc.


One of my clients said to me once: A facilitator means a scribe, doesn’t it? (No, a facilitator is Not a scribe!)


So who is the facilitator, what is his/her role and why it matters?


A dictionary definition of “to facilitate” is to make things easier, to assist in the progress. The International Association of Facilitators (IAF) defines a facilitator as “someone who plays an impartial role in helping groups become more effective. They should assume responsibility for the group processes, and they should not apply content expertise. They have no vested interest in the outcome whether to be a financial gain or not”.


There are important differences between the role of a facilitator, trainer, a moderator, a coach, because their purpose is different. These terms are often used interchangeable, which causes confusion (“facilitating with ease”, Ingrid Bens).




Facilitator versus Trainer or Teacher

“So, from a teaching, training and learning perspective, there’s always imparting knowledge. You’re always presenting information and getting students to critically analyze the data, think about it, give feedback and test their understanding – this is the teaching side.

When you are being a facilitator, you are sensing, observing, and guiding. It’s more about questioning their thinking, getting them to share their opinion, getting them to see and appreciate thoughts from each other and then leading them” – Jeremy Lu.


Facilitator versus Moderator

Ingrid Bens in her book “facilitating with ease” defines the role of a moderator as someone who leads a meeting, forum or a discussion, who overseas the communication taking place between the people and is allowed to apply their own knowledge (“content”) to help the progress and direction of the conversations.

Sometimes the moderator can have a role of a MC – the master of a ceremony – to lead the conference or a meeting and often to entertain.


Facilitator versus coach

Cindy Tonkin says “coaching is more where the individual wants to go, whereas facilitation is more about where the groups want or need to go”


Here are some key characteristics that should help you understand what the facilitator does, what is his/her role:

  • A facilitator is someone who works with groups to help them achieve their goals. Facilitator’s focus is on the process so the group can focus on the content.

  • A facilitator knows how groups of people operate. They know how to find what works for a specific group of people and then have them talking together and listen to each other.

  • A facilitator makes everything very interactive and knows how to blend all the experiences and knowledge of everyone in the room into a new idea or something workable for the group.

  • A facilitator does not need to explain the theory but he or she needs to be able to engage people in the experience of it.

  • A facilitator supports everyone to do their best thinking.


In meetings we often have disasters and people are not doing their best thinking and they are not on their best behavior, so they are not getting the best results. So the role of facilitator is to help the group by working on how the conversation takes place, so the group can get their best outcomes.


Can the facilitator be a coach, trainer, or a moderator and vice versa?



Of course, but changing hats needs to be intentional and transparent so the group knows at all time what your current role is.


Source: Ordinary Meetings Don't Interest Me. Creative Group Leadership, Book 1. What is Facilitation?


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