Facilitation Friday #1: Define Your Work


Note: Every Friday from now through the end of 2020 I will offer a post about effective program design and facilitation drawn from the workshops I often lead on these topics. You can inquire here about a customized session for your organization.

What do you do?

It’s an oft-posed simple question. Responses frequently default to job titles or a bullet list of responsibilities.

Such surface level answers mask the deeper purpose or meaning at the heart of our work.  Simon Sinek addresses this with his simple Golden Circle framework discussed in his book Start With Why and his popular TEDx talk on the topic:

“When most organizations or people think, act or communicate they do so from the outside in, from WHAT to WHY. And for good reason — they go from clearest thing to the fuzziest thing. We say WHAT we do, we sometimes say HOW we do it, but we rarely say WHY we do WHAT we do.”

Sinek’s book and talk focus primarily on organizations and helping them discover why they exist: what is their purpose, cause, or belief?  But this line of questioning is equally important to individuals and our work: what is our WHY? What is the purpose, cause, or core belief of/for your work/role?

Used appropriately, our WHY becomes a prism through which we view all our efforts. Consistently applying it is critical, and it should inform at minimum:

  • the metrics you use to evaluate your success;
  • the data that informs your efforts;
  • what details most command your attention;
  • the professional knowledge you seek to master; and 
  • the criteria you use to make decisions.

So how do we discover this important insight? I find the Five Why Method (also known as Root Cause Analysis) useful in getting to the WHY of my work. This journey is like seeking the center of Russian nesting dolls or peeling back the layers of the onion. You keep digging until you find the compelling (and likely succinct) WHY for all the WHATs of your work.

We begin with our initial surface responses, but then examine them and go deeper, answering: why does that work matter? why is it important? what value does it help create?

We now look at this second set of responses and again dig deeper and answer: why does that work matter? why is important? what value does it help create?


We repeat this process until we arrive at a succinct phrase or statement that represents our WHY, the essence of our work. I do this process annually to rethink and refresh my why.  Currently the WHY driving all of my program design and facilitation is this: help accelerate learning, community, and sustainable progress.

I've created a downloadable PDF worksheet to guide you through this process for your efforts in the design and facilitation of meetings, workshops, or conferences. See what deeper purpose you unearth. Find the WHY that can provide greater meaning to the methods you use in your work and the tasks associated with it.



Next in this series: the HOW, the values and principles to guide our efforts.