Coaching, Facilitating, & Training: Differences & Similarities

A respondent asks about the differences between coaching, training, and facilitation.

My answer depends on just how narrowly I treat these things. With a narrow view, they are all quite different. With a wider view, they have many similarities in activity, outcome, and intent.

At its narrowest, training speaks to me of formal settings & structure. A person (or usually badly, a machine) is the instructor, and some other persons are the students.

Conceived narrowly, facilitation is a session of active disinterested leadership. The one person isn’t the trainer, but the "meeting runner". She’s responsible for setting structure & tone of a given meeting or set of them, to ensure some kind of optimal experience. In both of those modes, the others grant, in advance, considerable control to the one. We limit that control in the former case to the subject domain, and in the latter case to the management of the meeting(s). The one is "in charge" of the others by intent and de jure.

Trainers are not "in the game", and their activity isn’t performed in the game, either. A facilitator’s activity is very much in the game, but the facilitator herself is usually explicitly not vested in any particular outcome.

Narrowly, a coach is limited not so much by subject domain — she can go wherever she wants — nor by disinterest — she can and does want particular outcomes, but by range of control. Coaches are not in charge, at least not de jure. They are more vested in outcome than facilitators, but they are not themselves usually in the game.

(The analog to coaching sports, which I presume is the origin of the term in the geek trades, breaks down here. Sports coaches are in charge and are deeply vested.)

Interestingly, coaches aren’t in the game, but most of their activity takes place while the game is going on around them. Odd.

So there are differences there when we’re feeling narrow-focused. They have to do mostly with how control is handled and partly to do with when the activities take place and partly with special role’s vesting in outcome. Of course, as soon as we open the aperture, all this pilpul turns into the kind of nonsensical neo-platonist bs we tell ourselves to justify whatever recent act needs it.

The most successful trainers, facilitators, and coaches all intermix these modes more or less freely to achieve their ends.

I not only often begin coaching gigs with a few days of training, I also hold tiny training segments all through the engagement, and I am regularly called upon to facilitate meetings. Trainers love it when they get the chance to create materials right out of the client’s code. Facilitators often start sessions with exercises designed to train their attendees.

I suppose, in the wider view, these differences are actually more about how the consumer views the producer than they are about how the producer views herself.

If you are a pro, someone pays you. That someone brings to the table many expectations. It is not necessary to fulfill them all, it is necessary to please those someones. Very often, nearly always, the first challenge I face in a new gig is precisely to shape those expectations so that both sides of the arrangement walk away happy.

I’d have to be a pathological liar beyond even my current level to suggest that I always succeed at this. 🙂 but it’s a routine part of every gun-for-hire’s job, not just mine or ours. Plumbers, doctors, congressfolk, actors, authors, all start every engagement by framing it. Coaching, training, facilitating aren’t any different.

Seen narrowly, almost any human activity can be dissected this way. Seen broadly, almost every human activity is a vast flickery assemblage of skill and attitude and local context. Coaching, training, & facilitating are different and alike. 🙂 thanks, @dhommel, for the nice trigger. Always good to have someone stir the soup on a lazy sunday afternoon.

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