If you are a typical purchaser considering a facilitation training class to have taught in-house, there are probably lots of standard questions you would ask the training vendor. Common questions might include: What topics are taught? What are the desired outcomes? How long is the class? How much does it costs? Can it be customized? Based on these basic questions, you could very easily conclude that facilitation classes are pretty similar, so you might as well choose the least expensive or the most convenient in terms of location.

Yet, for the shrewd buyer, there is a much tougher set of inquiries. These questions tend to focus on the fundamental issue: “How do I ensure that positive change will result from this training?” And as a training vendor, we have found that buyers who ask these questions tend to get a much clearer picture of how one course differs from another.

1. Is the course just a collection of topics or is a structured methodology used?

While specific topics are nice, the better facilitation courses provide the attendees with a comprehensive, soup-to-nuts approach to running facilitated meetings. The approach should go from preparing (e.g., interviewing the meeting sponsor) to session closing, and include how to focus, process information, record, respond, build consensus, etc. The methodology gives the participants a framework for facilitating any meeting. But along with the facilitation methodology, the better courses also demonstrate how to employ the methodology across many “process agendas” such as strategic planning, process improvement, issue resolution, etc.

2. Are your instructors professional facilitators or just trainers?

Trainers can “tell” you how to facilitate, but professional facilitators can go beyond the text book and “show” you what actually works. They can bring real-world examples that make the material come alive. Professional facilitators also reinforce the material by modeling the techniques as they teach. This way participants hear and see how the techniques are used.

3. How many times has the class been taught in its present form? When and what were the last updates?

This is a loaded question! On one hand you might not want to be the beta test site for a course, so the vendor should be able to prove that the course has been taught more than a couple of dozen times. At the same time, however, you will typically want a course that is current and has been updated in the last 12 months. Listen for the quality and type of additions made. If the last update covered basic topics, there may be other areas where the basics are still missing!

4. What is the biggest complaint attendees have about the course?

You may have to dig a little here. As vendors, we traditionally don’t like talking about our negatives. Listen for openness and honesty. Once you understand the complaints past participants have given, ask, “What can be done to make sure this isn’t a problem in our class?” Incidentally, every course can be improved. So be weary of the vendor who says, “There are no complaints.” Either he is lying, or he doesn’t listen well to his customers – both of which are sufficient grounds for you to consider finding another place to do business.

5. Which topics have people found least beneficial…Why should we bother to have you cover these?

Again, this is an openness and honesty check. If the vendor is frank, you will have an opportunity to customize the class to maximize the benefit to your participants. If you detect that the vendor is not being honest, consider the remedy described for the prior question.

6. How many times does each person facilitate…Is that enough?

You don’t become a good tennis player by reading about how to play tennis! Likewise to improve your facilitation skills, you have to facilitate. We have found that five or six facilitation opportunities for each individual provides the level of practice needed to provide an environment for significant change over a three- or four-day course.

7. What is the feedback process? Is honest feedback provided, or are real issues glossed over?

Contrary to popular belief, practice does NOT make perfect. Honest feedback and application of that feedback must shortly follow the practice. Listen for how the instructor sets up the feedback process. Is a safe environment created which respects each person’s individuality, yet promotes honest communication about strengths and areas for improvement? Is both verbal and written feedback provided? How are participants encouraged to apply the feedback in subsequent exercises? With a well-designed practice-feedback-application cycle, students rapidly make significant gains in performance.

8. What happens in the classroom to make sure the trainees “get it?”

While practice-feedback-application is a critical part of students “getting it,” there is another major component. The course content must be delivered in such a way that the content is transferred to the students. If the instructors use lecture as the primary delivery mechanism, knowledge transfer is impeded. Look for the use of interactive learning techniques, games, and role plays to keep the energy high and the participants focused.

9. How will I know whether my trainees “got it?”

Taking a course does not automatically mean that knowledge transfer occurred. The better facilitation courses provide a means for the training sponsor to receive feedback on the performance of each student, and recommendations for continuous development.

10. What take-away tools do you provide…What follow-up mechanisms are there to shore up skills?

The workbook should provide enough of an outline to guide participants through several different types of facilitated sessions. In addition, a means of follow-up through advanced classes and one-on-one feedback sessions should be available.

Please note: these questions should not be considered a substitute for reviewing the workbook and talking to references. In conjunction with these activities, the questions provide a strong source of information for clearly distinguishing one facilitator training course from another.