Barely Visible

I’ve been umming and ahhing about writing a post like this for a while, and I’ve never been sure how to start it, until I checked into a client office earlier in the week. It’s common place for the front desk to take a photo of guests for ID purposes, and the pic above is the ID photo that was on my pass. I expect and hope the one stored on the system looks clearer (otherwise what’s the point right?) and this odd picture tipped me into writing about the facilitation and consulting parts of my job.

Put very simply, I think a key indicator of a facilitator’s best work is when they are hardly noticed. I helped to run an event recently and afterwards one of the guests, Ian, came up to me and said, ‘I loved the way you facilitated today for us, it felt like it was all about us and unlike most facilitators, you didn’t try and insert yourself into the day at all. It wasn’t about you.’ Ian’s feedback is very kind, I appreciate it very much, and as a facilitator I’m disappointed that he felt this experience we shared was not normal.

The same goes for consultancy. The art of a great consultant (and I’m not one yet – though I’m trying and striving every day to be the best I can and to improve), is largely to show genuine interest and curiosity and belief in people, and awaken these things in others too with as light a touch as you can possibly manage. I find it helpful to ask myself and people I work with questions like, ‘What’s the least I can do today to make a positive impact?’ I believe Busyness is a curse, and yet there’s no substitute for effectiveness, which takes quiet practice, determination and hard work.

From my experience in corporate life this approach is also very tricky. A typical organisational hierarchy begets a certain amount of pressure to ‘make an impact’ and often this is interpreted as how much more impactful (is that a word?) you are when compared to your peers.Without care it can end up as a bit of a slugfest, and I don’t think a battle of egos is particularly helpful. Think about the best people you work with and for, and the chances are there’s something barely visible about them too. They’re thinking about you and them and how that interaction can deliver something useful for you, for the customer, for them too.

The weirdest bit about all of this is overcoming the natural uncertainty that if you come and go, somewhat ghost like, people won’t remember you. And if they don’t remember you, how can they ask you to do other things with them, how can they recommend you? It feels counter intuitive, and for sure there is a danger of taking this philosophy too far. I gave a talk for the CIPD at one of their conferences earlier in the year and omitted to tell the audience who I am and what I do. I’ve been ribbed about it ever since, quite right too. Barely visible and invisible are two completely different things.

You might like to think about what’s the least you can do today to make a positive impact? I hope so, and I hope to see you again, barely, very soon.


Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

5 thoughts on “Barely Visible”

  1. Doug,

    Before yesterday’s event I tempted fate with an internal blog. It was a cheesey one called, “I love it when a plan comes together”, it carried the A-Team motif.

    It was typically long and rambling but contained this excerpt,

    “…Doug Shaw (, @dougshaw1) is on hand, and will do his seemingly effortless, but much practised invisible hand routine, bringing the day to life while ensuring it about the attendees, not the stage, nor frustrated bloggers thousands of miles away.”

    By the way, Ian repeated that story to me word for word last week.



  2. Great post Doug,

    You’ve captured something I think I’ve always known but maybe hadn’t consciously considered. I’ve always felt it’s about the people you are working with, whether that be clients or colleagues or participants or team members. It is those folk that should be in the limelight and shining bright. And that does bring a bit of a worry that your contribution won’t be recognised or remembered or valued or noticed so it is reassuring that the comments you’ve got show that certainly isn’t the case for you.

    You don’t need a hammer to make an impact, so here’s to the light touches that help others to shine bright.

  3. Cheers Anthony and Kevin – your feedback and comments are a great way to sign off the US tour. It’s been a blast and I’m ready to go home 🙂

    Catch up soon – D

  4. Love this post. For years I have used John Heron’s model of facilitation – to develop other facilitators/trainers/L&D folk and also for my own development. He puts ‘power over learning’ on a sliding scale, from ‘hierarchical’ mode (facilitator in full control) through ‘cooperative mode’ (joint) to ‘autonomous’ mode. The latter is where the group is in control; the facilitator creates the environment for this to happen. This sounds like a cop out, but as you outline, it absolutely isn’t. It takes a facilitator who can let go of ego, and who can work bloody hard beforehand and behind the scenes to allow the delegates/group/audience to do their own thing and fly.

    1. Beautifully well said Flora. Once again I am in receipt of a comment so much better written than the original post. Thanks.

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