How Learning to Facilitate Levelled-Up My Career

Find out how I learned about workshop facilitation by accident, and it gave me the interesting, lucrative, impactful career I have today.

Guest article by Dee Scarano.

The job landscape is changing fast. It’s becoming harder than ever to stand out in the crowd and, if you're lucky, find a career you love. We’re all questioning which skills will give us the edge and what we should learn to get the future we want. I learned about workshop facilitation mostly by accident, and it turned out to be the one skill that gave me the interesting, lucrative, impactful career I have today. I’m going to tell you how that happened and how it can work for you!

When I was a UX designer 7 years ago I tried to expand my skill-set in any way I could. I tried some UI design (user interface design), learned about project management, and even did a little coding. When I ran a simple workshop to help my team solve a tricky problem, I noticed other people started asking me to work with their teams too. Managers asked for help with project kick-offs, colleagues wanted frameworks for making decisions together, and senior leaders called me in to facilitate high-level strategy meetings. I didn’t realise it at the time but I had stumbled on a valuable and highly sought-after skill that would change the path of my career.

Now I’ve facilitated workshops for 50+ companies around the world across a huge variety of industries: tech, media, farming, art, music, automotive, telecommunications, manufacturing, and many more. I’ve seen first-hand that all types of organizations share the same difficulties when it comes to solving problems: Sharing knowledge, getting aligned, finding focus, and making decisions. It turns out that facilitation is the surprisingly simple solution to these serious business challenges… keep reading to find out why! 

Facilitation = Collaborative problem solving

When I worked as a designer and I had a problem to solve I felt daunted by the feeling of not knowing all the answers. But once I had learned a few basic workshop methods I started to feel like I had a secret weapon. I didn’t need to know all the answers! I could bring other people together to find the solution with me.

One of the first workshops I ever ran was when I had the task of turning weeks of customer research into a clear list of new features that our team should start building. It seemed impossible to narrow down all that information into a clear direction. So instead I brought the team together to decide with me, and in an hour we had determined exactly what to start working on. It seemed too good to be true.

Dee Scarano running a workshop
The team saw all the information from my research and voted on the priorities

Now that I’ve been running workshops for years I’ve seen the same kinds of simple challenges slow teams down everyday. Being able to facilitate group workshops is more than just another tool in your toolkit, it’s a secret skill that can make you the superhero problem-solver everyone wants to have on their team.

Why facilitation is the skill of the future

Businesses all around the world share the same challenges with collaboration and decision-making. Think about the companies you’ve worked for and check if you’ve experienced any of these:

  • Heavy processes and delays between meetings
  • Political differences and misalignments
  • Difficulty making decisions and taking action
  • Team members losing motivation when they don’t feel involved
  • Overlooked blindspots because someone wasn’t included early enough 
“Critical thinking and problem-solving top the list of skills employers believe will grow in prominence in the next five years”

Source: World Economic Forum

Today, innovation and problem-solving are top of mind for every company. I work with at least 10 different organizations every year that  hire me to help with the same fundamental challenges. They all want their teams to work together more effectively, be more innovative, and make decisions more confidently.

Learn more about facilitation and workshopping in our FREE FACILITATION COMMUNITY

Businesses are starting to realize that people with the skills to facilitate are becoming the most desirable to employ. In fact the World Economic Forum recently released a report stating that critical thinking and problem-solving top the list of skills employers believe will grow in prominence in the next five years. Additionally the source also released the “Top 10 Job Skills of the Future” (as depicted in the image below).

Source: World Economic Forum - Top 10 Job Skills of the Future

What could your career look like?

I feel lucky to have discovered the power of facilitation while I was a UX designer but now I use workshops for so much more than design. Last week I helped two startup founders in Berlin streamline their weekly schedule, the week before that I helped a 100,000 person organization in the U.S. create an internal education program, and this week I’m helping a medical organization in the U.K. define their online content strategy.

No matter what field you work in, having the ability to bring multiple people together to solve problems is a truly versatile super-power. If you can facilitate a workshop you can solve problems faster, help teams be more innovative, and help businesses save valuable time and money! 

“Participants reported that Design Sprint workshops yielded a 7x savings in time and at least 2x savings in money (incl. cost of an external consultant)”

The Truth About the ROI of Design Sprints

Workshopping is different from other skills you can learn. For example, if you learn UX design you’ll still need to slowly grow your skills and work your way up to a senior position. If you learn how to run workshops you can have immediate impact and start getting in the room with leaders who will notice you as someone who can guide strategic decision-making. And if you decide to freelance, the sky's the limit! You can set your own prices and working hours and control your professional progress.

Once I started working as a freelance facilitator I began earning a lot more and having a more flexible schedule. Today, I charge the same amount for a 2-day workshop as I used to earn in a full month as a UX Designer! I work directly with business leaders and change-makers, and feel a real sense of authority and impact in my career.

On top of all those benefits I also get to choose what I work on, the people I work with, and the amount of time I have for my personal life. I’ve never felt more in control of my future, and I believe that anyone can learn and use facilitation to do the same.

How to get started

The best way to get started is to dive right in and try out a few easy workshop methods on an approachable challenge.

When I started running my very first workshops I looked for a few simple templates and tried them out. When I found something that worked well I kept using it, and gradually learned new methods as I needed them. One of my favourites was an early version of the Lightning Decision Jam (before it even had that name) and I still use it all the time. You can find it in the list below to try it for yourself, as well as many other great starter workshops.

Easy, high-impact workshop frameworks

Use existing templates 

Try these workshops out and watch the collaboration process change in your team!

Dee Scarano

Dee Scarano is a freelance facilitator and innovation coach. She’s worked in product strategy, UX, and Design Sprints for over 12 years and runs workshops around the world for companies like Twitter, SoundCloud, Lufthansa, Verizon, Google and many more.