Coach, Facilitator and Mentor – Who is doing What?

Not that long ago, I asked some of the professionals that I know or came across about the difference between the professions of being a facilitator, a coach and a mentor, if and how they might distinguish them from their viewpoints. Depending on how much of a purist in his profession the person was, I got different answers.

A few purists of the facilitation and coaching fields adamantly declared that the professions cannot be more different and should not be confused. The purists from the respective fields can define their role as a coach or a facilitator, but I didn’t really get a clear differentiation between the two fields, because frankly there are not that many facilitators who are also trained as coaches, and vice versa.

Now that I have spent several years taking the training in both fields, I can see the blending of coaching and facilitation techniques and that they can complement each other. These are my observations from my current perspective and knowledge:

There are of course differences between coaching and facilitation:

  • coaching is typically offered to individuals, couples or very small groups (I’d say no more than 4 or 5),
  • facilitation is typically intended for groups, teams, task forces or organizations; group sizes can vary from 5 to a few hundreds,
  • coaching is focused on an individual’s own issues, past, present and future,
  • facilitation is focused on the group’s purpose and issues, past, present and future,
  • coaching services can last over a period of time for an individual, usually by in-person meetings or phone calls,
  • facilitation services are typically project or issue based, usually done through in-person or vitural meetings or workshops,
  • coaching clients can be served in-person, by telephone or other virtual mechanism such as Skype,
  • facilitation clients are most typically served in a face-to-face environment, and increasingly virtual facilitation services are being requested in order to reduce travel costs.

There are many similarities in the fields of coaching and facilitation:

  • both fields presume the client(s) / participant(s) are creative, resourceful and whole such that they can find their own solutions,
  • both use various ways to draw or pull information out of the participant(s) / client(s),
  • both use similar fundamental methods and skills such as Appreciative Inquiry, setting a safe environment and relationship guidelines, and asking good questions, although they may not call them the same names,
  • both coach and facilitator need to be neutral without taking sides on issues,
  • both expect the professional coach or facilitator to be flexible and adaptable in using different techniques or methods to meet the client’s needs,
  • both require the professional coach or facilitator to actively listen to the client, to what is being said and sometimes, more importantly, what is not being said, and
  • both help the client to dig deep to discover their own strengths, possibilities, change capacity and/or solutions, and to move the client forward in their personal or group journey.

What may be one big difference for me is that I spend a lot more time scoping, planning and designing a meeting or workshop prior to facilitating one; while being a coach, the degree of design and preparation is a lot more spontaneous and responsive to the client's input or feedback at the moment. Both, being a coach and a facilitator, require me to be flexible, listening attentatively, checking assumptions and adapting to changing priorities by dancing in the moment.

What about mentors? Who are mentors?

Being a mentor is to be a wise and trusted counselor for someone; she may also act as a guide, a teacher, a supporter and an encouraging influencer to the mentee. Being a mentor does not necessarily require one to be neutral, nor does it require the mentor to be quiet about his opinions. I did learn, however, that one’s opinions can often cloud the creativity and collaboration, and opinions are often only partial views.

A mentor and mentee relationship can be established formally or informally. An elder that is more experienced, knowledgeable and wise can provide sage advice in a formal capacity, this respected position is evident in a number of cultures. More often than not, a trusted friend or colleague may act as a mentor unofficially, or even unknowingly.

I’d like to surround myself with as many positive models as possible. I’d like to think that I have many mentors, from whom I can learn a lot and can share a lot authentically, transparently and honestly.

So, are you a coach, a facilitator or a mentor? Or are you two or all of the above?

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