If you give a man a fish you’ll feed him for a day, if you teach a man how to fish you feed him for a lifetime

Chinese proverb


We’ve all heard someone trying to wisely quote the supposedly Chinese proverb “If you give a man a fish you’ll feed him for a day, if you teach a man how to fish you feed him for a lifetime”… To me, facilitation is the concrete illustration of this saying. It means guiding people through given activities to help them gain some new knowledge or skills – or simply build on their previous knowledge.

Theoretically, filling the gap between facilitation and teaching can be done in a blink. In practice, there is no greater mistake. Facilitation is one of the many real-life applications of the sometimes fishy concept – wisely spread in my BS school: the famous “learning by doing”. A facilitator is, as said above, a guide. In a way, a facilitating team is responsible for designing the methodology, space, logistics, and so on. In some very redundant terms, facilitation is about facilitating everybody’s life during the event.

I gained experience facilitating diverse workshops at thecamp during my HIVE residency. Last May, during the Adecco’s CEO for One Month pre-finale, I discovered that facilitation was considered a manager’s essential skill (among leadership, empathy, etc.). Early September, as I was back for a (very) short while at emlyon, facilitation was again quoted as a must-have management skill. Those two recent experiences got me wondering: 


Practise learning by doing

Any hipster teacher today

always come prepared


During the CEO for One Month bootcamp in may 2018, Adecco’s teams put us through what I still consider as the second hardest task of this recruiting process – after math: improvising an hour-long workshop for 16 attendees on the spot. We were provided with a bunch of post-its, pens, and a paperboard per team. 

The exercise was interesting and highly challenging. We struggled through the session and – painfully –  managed to collect our input. At that time, I had the confirmation that a workshop, like any other event, has to be prepared… to prevent panic on both ends and make sure the delivery matches the initial brief. It was also the first time I faced the assumption that using props in a meeting could count as “workshop facilitation”.

Post-it describing Millenials' wishes (improvised workshop session)
@ DR

More on my CEO for One Month experience here (part 1) and here (part 3)

brace yourself, #backtoschool is coming


Since 2017, emlyon business school has decided to play around with the concept of #backtoschool. Instead of welcoming students with a sh*tload of meetings, the administration team has decided to shake things up a little bit. Early september now rimes with “ surprise challenge”. Last year, the students had the pleasure of discovering the thrill of participating in a hackathon. This September (2018), a giant peer-to-peer learning workshop awaited the 1 500 newly enrolled students coming from all over the world (from the PGE program). Nathalie Hector, head of the program, wished for the students to focus on their passions and personal experience.

Why this challenge?

I remember when I was still a student and launched the first teacherless course at school. We were only 30 then.

Today we’ re 1500 

Diane Lenne

WAP founder
WAP - logo

Formerly called “We Are the Project”, WAP now stands for “We Are Peers. Diane Lenne (WAP founder), launched the first teacherless course at emlyon BS in 2016, during my first year attending the school. The aim was and still remains for participants to come and teach their peers. Whether it be on a passion or a special knowledge, everyone undergoes the same process. Today, WAP replicates the process to work with firms and larger audiences.

For this special #backtoschool event, Diane was actually crash-testing a new WAP format. She created a peer-to-peer learning platform, matching people based on their interests into teaching teams. This new WAP paves the way to more meaningful conversations, lively group sessions and passionate teaching. This new concept oddly reminded me of the previously mentioned braindate experience developed by E180 (developed in my C2 experience feedback here).

And what would be a good event without a little irony? Many facilitators were also emlyon’s alumni, which gave this event another dimension of #backtoschool. 

WAP space

With peer-to-peer learning, teachers and students equally participate – all the more since teachers become students afterwards and vice-versa. Since there is no “top-down” knowledge sharing, but rather debates, activities and lots of interactions, the “teaching” space is designed accordingly.

Room arrangement for a "classic" WAP course


The event could be summed up in a word: overwhelming. Even though we faced some technical problems, the 1 500 students created  200 + courses overall, and 40 of them were taught

To perform on a bigger scale we had to crash-test on a bigger scale.

Diane Lenne

WAP founder

WAP of it?*

I loved how transparent the WAP team remained through the event, whether everything was going on perfectly, or not. I was actually surprised by the (co) facilitating team diversity  – many staff members from emlyon came to support the initiative, which represented well the WAP spirit. It also gave everybody a live view of what students can achieve through peer-to-peer learning, at the same time as students discovered the high and lows of teaching.

On the other hand, I regret seeing how little the school included international students in designing these two-days. 

*bad pun intended

I never thought as a teacher here that some day I would be following the lead of former students’

Alice Riou

Marketing teacher at emlyon

closing the loop

After facilitating an amphitheater of executive AccorHotels’ lawyers in early 2018 and other teams at various events at thecamp, I thought the exercise would be a piece of cake. I realized quickly that not only is it always easier said than done, it’s also different to facilitate firm collaborators and students. I found that sharing that “student experience” with the crowd actually changed my facilitation perception in that particular context. 

This leads me backs to the initial question:


Both situations  taught me that if facilitation is a must-have skill for a manager, its definition slightly differs from the workshop designer’s / facilitator’s. Facilitating a team in management might mean you’re guaranteeing everything goes right form brief to delivery – as a scrum master might -, or that you can lead a meeting successfully from A to Z. 

For a workshop designer / animator, facilitation means guiding participants through all the steps designed for them to go from point A to point B. To me, the divergence lies in the HOW we achieve something versus WHAT we achieve. A facilitator provides a given team with methodologies, frameworks, and a plethora of other tools to help them walk through their issues towards finding solutions. He focuses primarily on a process. On the other part, a manager is more result-oriented, focusing on WHAT we do in the end. 

Design thinking has become a buzzword but is still often being practised designer-less… I wonder if the soft-skill boom will lead facilitation down the same path. If so, I trust the emergence of multi-disciplininary and collaborative methodologies  will help the gap bridge over time.

Do you agree? Disagree? Let’s discuss on the topic!

Tags: No tags

3 Responses

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *