For many people, the four concepts ‘teacher’, ‘trainer’, ‘coach’ and ‘facilitator’ are very – if not wholly – similar. But the only real commonality is that these four different professions counsel groups of people.
They are men or women ‘in front of a group’ teaching others. It’s all the same, you might think. But learning something is about much more than just that. It is essential to know what it is that you want to learn, how and from whom. If that is clear, the right form of counselling can be applied.
For the man or woman in front of the class, the difference between these four ways of counselling is obvious. It starts with the participants’ question or wish. That question or wish is used to teach them an appropriate way of learning, based on their knowledge and experience(s). This way it will fit the purpose, the situation of those who ask the question or express the wish, but also fit the context.
The context of the question is the whole of what has happened beforehand and what will happen afterwards; which developments should ‘the man or woman in front of the group’ take into account?
All these elements together determine the role of ‘the man or woman in front of the group’.
teacher, trainer, coach or facilitator: four different ways of counselling
The differences are subtle, but they can be clearly identified.
We all know this from our school days: a classroom with pupils who all focus on the teacher (or the lecturer, professor, etc.).
The teacher explains what is new for the students and what the students need to acquire/learn to obtain a diploma or certificate. This is the pure transfer of knowledge. As a student, you are taught knowledge, and you do your best to understand everything.
To better understand the knowledge and information, you perform exercises, either by yourself or in groups. Finally, the teacher tests you with questions that you need to answer correctly; everything to make it clear to the teacher that you understand the knowledge so well that you can apply it yourself.
The teacher does this through mastering the material better than the student, and by transferring as much knowledge and facts as possible. Of course, the teacher adapts their style and way of teaching to the student, but it is mainly a one-way street, with information being transferred from the teacher to the student, enabling the student to learn and apply the knowledge.
After you leave school, or when you start some type of sports, you will encounter another way of counselling to get better in your profession or sport: training.
A trainer will look at what you can do and discuss with you what you want to get better at. Next, they will provide tips and ideas to improve. This often involves practical skills.
The sports trainer will provide you with tips and directions to help you move the ball better or get off to a faster start. The trainer at work shares their experiences and suggestions for improvement based on their own observations (of you) and what you as a trainee have indicated as important.
This method is primarily question-driven and goal-oriented. The trainer and trainee define a goal to be achieved beforehand (such as scoring goals or increasing speed). The trainer adjusts to the trainee and their questions. Training is not so much about gathering knowledge, but more about acquiring skills (although sometimes that requires knowledge). There is some level of reciprocity between trainer and trainee: they pursue the goal together.
Coach, a term that is used very loosely in the (social) media. The meaning of the word ‘coach’ varies widely. In this list of professions, the concept of ‘coach’ has a clear place.
A coach is not necessarily someone who has a good command of the subject matter or the end result itself. A good tennis coach doesn’t necessarily have to have had international success as a tennis player to make you a top player. The coach will look for ways to maximise your potential and uses a range of different methods.
As with a trainer, you will discuss with the coach what you want to achieve. However, a coach asks many (more) probing questions. Your wishes often include limitations; the coach learns from your answers (about your wishes, beliefs, limitations) and as a result, knows better what they can do to achieve your goal.
The coach also shares a tiny amount of knowledge/information. You tell the coach what is happening, and you tell yourself at the same time. By asking the right questions, the coach changes your thought patterns. The coach ultimately makes you aware of your own answers to achieve your wishes or goals. This is actually ‘one-way traffic’: you already possess the knowledge and experience. In cooperation with the coach, that knowledge emerges so that you can apply it.
The ‘facilitator’ is a relatively unknown concept in the Netherlands, but it is actually very simple. A facilitator facilitates the meeting of a group of people. That means that you create a setting in which people can work to achieve the goal. This can be a small group or an extensive group.
The teacher, trainer and coach are concerned with the content and the process of counselling; a facilitator is only involved in the process. The knowledge of and responsibility for the content lie with the group itself.
This means that the facilitator will discuss what needs to be achieved in advance. During this preparation, the facilitator will shape and determine their role, as well as the resources and interventions they can use.
A nice comparison is the master of ceremonies at a wedding. The couple will discuss their wishes beforehand; what do you want to happen and in what order? During this meeting, the master of ceremonies discusses what needs to be done, who to address, send or announce, how to make sure something is ready, etc. Eventually, the goals that the couple have set, are achieved. The master of ceremonies’ preferences in terms of content are not important; they must make sure that it all runs smoothly.
The facilitator clarifies what the group wants to achieve and what their role should be in a (very) comprehensive preparation. The role of facilitator may vary greatly from one meeting to the next.
teacher > trainer > coach > facilitator
The difference between these four professions is the degree of interaction between the counsellor and the group. It starts with one-way traffic from the counsellor to the group (teacher). It ends with one-way traffic from the group to the counsellor (facilitator).
The required role, therefore, depends on what the group needs. Does the group need knowledge and skills? Or does the group need to learn to work together and make decisions together? Or does the group want to get a clear view of the opinions and make sound joint decisions? If the group’s question is clear, the members can select either a teacher, trainer, coach or facilitator.
Works Council training or Works Council coaching?
In recent years, we have noticed that in working with Works Councils, there is no real need for training, although we still call it that.
Most Works Council members already have a lot of knowledge and experience. They know how to conduct meetings, they have knowledge of group processes, they know how to get people to work together. These are things that the Works Council members probably learned in college or from courses/training at work. And if you didn’t learn something, you can always download a whitepaper with the required knowledge.
The bigger question is how you use and apply all that knowledge and experience within the group. Coaching is the best method to improve together, to convert a Works Council into a properly working team. In this article, you will read about the Works Council coach perspective on things (Dutch).
Read more about this in the article Works Council training or Works Council coaching: is there a difference?
*in this article we have taken ‘the group’ as the starting point. The underlying question is, of course, where that group comes from and how it relates to the organisation in its entirety, or to the present purpose. This is important for the role of the counsellor. For the sake of simplicity, we did not address this in this article.
Footnote: For this article, we have gratefully drawn on the knowledge and skills of Tonnie van der Zouwen (Dutch), a specialist in developmental stakeholder involvement and a lecturer of Sustainable Working & Organising. Tonnie is a CT² team network partner.
Note: Please note that we are a Dutch organisation and that all our information is originally composed in Dutch. For the benefit of our English-speaking customers we have translated some of our online information. We are still in the process of translating even more of our information. It could therefore be that you will come across Dutch pages on CT2.nl. Please contact us if you would like more information.