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Mastery I

Mastering Self & Competencies




Years ago, Roger Harrison, who was a well-known and highly respected figure in the world of Organizational Development, attended a ToP Strategic Planning Course. During a discussion of how to prepare yourself for, he commented that a facilitator needs a spiritual practice, whether it is meditation, yoga, various forms of mindfulness, journaling, immersing yourself in silence, or any other disciplined practice that is done regularly and frequently that allows you to get outside of yourself and at the same time more deeply inside yourself. Self-awareness is one of the most important competencies available to a facilitator to improve their capacity in the work. Second to that is being able to maintain a calm and neutral stance regardless of what’s happening in the group and knowing what to do when a messy circumstance arises. 


One approach to self-mastery is becoming a certified facilitator, whether through ICA’s Certified ToP Facilitator process with a strong emphasis on ToP methods and a coach or IAF’s process which includes a path forward to the Certified Professional Facilitator through mentoring and first becoming an Endorsed Facilitator, which can give any level of facilitator a sense of where they are on the professional development journey, both their strengths and places where they could improve. In addition, frequently working with a co-facilitator can give you a good dose of where your triggers are and how others see you. Planning with and afterward debriefing with your co-facilitator can add layers of depth to the feedback you may get from the group at the end of a session.


The Leader’s Preparation  

This early piece is comprehensive and in-depth, including helpful sentences on the life understanding of EI/ICA. Elizabeth U. Dyson wrote this for use by the Neighborhood Caretakers she worked within Indianapolis, IN.


Another powerful write-up on Preparation and Mastery of Self is included in the manual (© The Canadian Institute of Cultural Affairs) for the ICA Associates courses Group Facilitation Methods and Group Facilitation Methods Online, registration available here under Facilitation & Training.


Facilitation Style vs. Pedagogical Style

In the early years, as the Ecumenical Institute’s courses spread across the country and internationally, the style of presentation was pedagogical and training in pedagogy for course content was intense. For a better grasp of the power and intention of pedagogy, see Seminar Methodology: Increasing the Impact of a Seminar Through Flexible Drama & Drill and Seminar Methods: Creating a Great Symphony, Institute of Cultural Affairs, Chicago Centrum, Methods Paper, Spring 1971


As the work shifted from a primary focus on clergy through the Parish Leadership Colloquy (PLC) and on lay-people through Religious Studies I (RSI) to a focus on communities and eventually organizations, the style shifted from pedagogy to facilitation. Initially, it was simply “learn as you go” and share at regional and annual global conferences. “Facilitation” as a group process or a profession was fairly unknown, except perhaps in higher education and corporate retreats where multiple approaches were in an experimental phase. 


Over time, as more and more of the Institute’s leadership became involved in working with internal and external groups to help them think through needed plans and decisions, the approaches used earlier in parish work became more community-focused and honed for group ownership and lasting results.



 …is much more than having a set of effective methods and processes. The competencies, developed by ICA and later refined in collaboration with the International Association of Facilitators (IAF), both of whom have certification programs, broaden your capacity to create collaborative client relationships, plan appropriate group processes, create and sustain a participatory environment, guide a group to appropriate and useful outcomes, build and maintain professional knowledge, and model a positive, professional attitude. For anyone to become a ToP Certified Facilitator, there is an additional emphasis and focus on the understanding and successful use of ToP facilitation methods.


Facilitation mastery requires extensive preparation no matter how many times you have facilitated before in order to fully care for the participants’ journey and their desired outcomes. There is the intellectual preparation which comes under the banner of professional development and understanding the values and ethics of the profession. And there is practical/personal preparation, being sure your procedures and materials are ready and you arrive early to an event, having taken the time to center and ground yourself through a personal practice of self-awareness and to have cleared and set-up the space to graciously host the participants and support their success.


Note that as of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, facilitating via a virtual platform has become something many are struggling to master, including moving ToP Facilitation face-to-face courses into virtual offerings.



One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.” ~ Leonardo Da Vinci