By Michael Wilkinson (Jossey-Bass, $40)
Ihave to admit my bias about books penned by consultants. I've read so many that are nothing but shameless pitches for business. These books laud the miraculous efforts of the consultant who does whatever, without ever making a mistake while producing never-before-seen results. Many times the authors describe success after resounding success, never indicating that they have ever come close to failure.
Wilkinson, on the other hand (even though he is one of the first five Certified Master Facilitators in the U.S.), describes one of his facilitations gone wrong by saying, "The session was a disaster." He then dissects the session and we learn from his lessons. Somehow the honest admission that even such a skilled facilitator can have a disaster gives more credibility to everything he says.
The Secrets of Facilitation "delivers the concepts and strategies you need to make facilitation work more effectively for you," says Wilkinson. Actually, I found this to be an understatement. This is a terrific book that provides sixty secrets of facilitation, organized by Wilkinson's principles of SMART facilitation. (SMART translates to Structured Meeting and Relating Techniques.)
The chapters are organized around the steps in his facilitation model: asking questions, preparing for success, getting started, focusing the group, using the pen, closing the session and information gathering. If you are a seasoned facilitator, you don't necessarily need to read this book from front to back. You can go directly to the sections that interest you most. But if you're a less-experienced facilitator I recommend reading the book from cover to cover. Each chapter ends with a summary in the form of a checklist, and Wilkinson's "60 secrets" are listed again in the back of the book.
This is an excellent book to keep on your shelf for reference prior to facilitating. And it's structured so that you can go directly to the secrets that apply to your facilitation situation, without having to page through the entire book. —J.L.