In terms of recognized applications in twentieth century organizations we can see roots and influences in a variety of places over the last 50 or so years. Kurt Lewin's contribution to the understanding of groups was based on the assumption that the most effective change in people occurs in group interaction rather than in individuals. Beginning in 1946 Bradford and Lewin, organized several conferences with a unique structure such that within this National training Lab (NTL) instead of an agenda of speeches by "experts" the conferences were broken up into work groups led by trained group leaders and recorders. Bradford and Lewin trained the leaders in how to be a help to the group rather than an expert to it. i.e to be facilitators.
The theories of Lewin and Bion's theories on groups were the base for the first Group Relations Conference in 1957 that was sponsored by the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations and Leicester University directed by Trist. Group Relations Conferences typically explored the effects of group and organisational dynamics on how individuals take up authority and leadership in this temporary institution, and in their work. In 1960 Emery and Trist created the first participative strategic planning method and field tested it with Bristol Siddeley in the UK. They called the method and process searching, or the search conference.
Other influences would include Osborne and Prince who formalized brainstorming in the early 50's and started a number of firms to provide brainstorming facilitators like Synectics. Early descriptions of the use of facilitators in business environments often combined the role of 'process consultant' along with the facilitative style used by some consultants.
Schein in 1969 described three possible roles for consultants, including expert, diagnostic and process consultant - the latter being very close to the role of a facilitator. In 1976 Doyle and Strauss published "How to Make Meetings Work". Morris, a system engineer with IBM, adopted ideas from Doyle and Strauss to gather information enabling implementation of a software product. Crawford of IBM Canada worked with Morris to formalize the process called "JAD" - Joint Application Design. Along a parallel path, other groups developed facilitation techniques - completely separate from JAD, such as the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) who developed the "TOP" - Technology of Participation - method.
A Task-oriented group facilitation evolved out of the organizational environment of the last thirty years, especially in industrial and information rich societies where time is a key factor. We needed to find methods for people to work together more effectively. Quality circle groups, cross-functional task forces and civic groups were the early big users and advocates of this methodology. Facilitation was an informal, flexible alternative to the constricting format of parliamentary procedure and Robert's Rules of Order.
There are many facilitation tools, eg. Cafes, Open space, Dynamic Facilitation, Search conferences - systems thinking ,mindmapping Read more about facilitation tools >