Facilitator or Personality? Retreat – Know Thyself!

When it comes to running a retreat, retreat operators fall into two categories: “Facilitators” and “Personalities”. What is the difference between these two?

The Facilitator:

Facilitators are tour operators that arrange experiences and aren’t a pivotal part of the participant’s experience as a personality. If you are running a week long coding retreat where students learn from different instructors and have ample free time to explore the surroundings themselves then you would be a facilitator – in this case you are free to engage in the logistic side of the retreat yourself with little to no damage to your program because the various aspects of your program are centered around the group of participants as a decentralized unit.

The Personality:

Personalities differ because their retreats live and die based on the personal connections participants develop with them. If you are running a retreat where your participants interact with, travel with, and learn from you then you are a Personality. In this case you can’t afford to be bogged down in the logistics of the program’s day to day operations because each operation you attend to personally detracts from the connections you build with your clients and devalues the expertise they have come to learn.

So you know what you are…now what?

For any retreat it is incredibly important what image the participants develop in regards to the content and quality of the program but this is accomplished in different ways for Facilitators and Personalities. Knowing what kind of program you run lets you know what you should personally focus on and what you should delegate.

Facilitators need to focus on the integrity of the program’s pre-designed function – in this way they are similar to the director of a play – while they may not act as Personality to the clients of the retreat they most certainly act as personality to the crew who help them run the retreat. Facilitators, like directors, are integral in making sure the stage is set, the players are ready, the tech crew is prepared, and the show runs smoothly. The director chooses the vision of the event and has it built and prepared by delegates who act on instruction.

As a retreat operator you are responsible for choosing the venue, designing the program, overseeing delegated work, choosing delegates, and managing both the expectations of the clients and any problems that arise during the event. Initially this is a lot of work but once a Facilitator finds the right people and they are able to function autonomously with minimal oversight things become easier and the complexity and quality of the program is free to grow.

Personalities need to focus on the feelings and experience of the clients – in this way they are similar to street magicians. They must create an atmosphere of intrigue, turn spectators into players, and figure out how best to work with assistants to make sure the experience is effective. The important thing is this: The Personality is the event and chooses how the event ebbs and flows based on preparation and feedback from the audience both in real time and in reflection afterwards. The assistants must be able to work with little to no oversight from the personality and it is the job of the Personality to manage expectations both beforehand and during the event. This kind of retreat is pretty straight-forward and, if done correctly, is fairly easy. Growth is tricky though as the Personality must attain complexity through an array of near-autonomous assistants and the program will have to shift to more and more spectacle.

It is of course possible for a facilitator to become a cult of personality and vice versa but this usually requires an overhaul of the entire product. Because of this it’s easier for one to blend into the other without fully crossing over. For example a facilitator can take a central role in the interaction with participants, resembling but not fully becoming The Personality and a Cult of Personality can let their assistants take on side-kick roles while they go do something else themselves.

From here you can tweak and optimise your setup and really start creating wonderfully complex and beautiful experiences that aren’t just business – they are art.