Tips: hosting and facilitation – is there a difference?

Linda Joy Mitchell’s story of hosting circle for three sisters evoked thought on what is hosting and (how) does it differ from facilitation.  As a practitioner of The Circle Way and Art of Hosting, and past certified professional facilitator with the International Association of Facilitation (IAF), I’ve used both terms to describe myself and my work.  My experience aligns with what some have referred to as a continuum of practice versus a dichotomy of distinctions.

Amy Lenzo and Adrian Pianesi in an article on online hosting written for The Systems Thinker, 2011, write:

Hosting is the act of intentionally creating a hospitable space, of “extending a sense of welcome, gracious generosity to your participants—honoring their presence and inviting their participation exactly as you would if they were guests in your home.” 

In creating this space, consider:

  • Touches of beauty for the circle centre, around the room, at table settings
  • A spacious room set up and comfortable seating
  • Inviting music
  • Well prepared and presented refreshments

Myriam LaBerge, an IAF certified professional facilitator who first suggested the continuum of practice, blogs that in both facilitation and hosting:

“the importance of attending to the living, interactive, conversational space that is created as we blend methods and processes.  As servant leaders, our intent should be to ensure meaningful conversations and real work occur around those questions that profoundly matter to the client organizations and communities we serve, such that greater health and wholeness of the system is fostered.”

She offers a frame of understanding:

Inner Facilitation

(think Hosting)

The practice of presence to attending to what is really emerging, and being willing to change the design to best serve the group.

During the event, constantly asks: How Can I Nurture Emergence?

  • Be fully present to the unfolding field. Attend to what is unfolding in real time versus original agenda·      
  • Continually ask: how can I best serve the whole for collective wisdom to emerge?
  • ˜Dance”™ flexibly with the design in response to group energy.
  • Anticipate and be transparent about the ˜groan zone”™ or other bumps. If/when it happens, be willing to stand in the creative tension to foster emergence.
  • Demonstrate commitment to responsiveness, detachment, collaboration, co-design.


Outer Facilitation

(think traditional facilitation)

The art and technology of helping participants through the agenda in accordance with the purpose, principles and other articulated norms for working together

During the event, constantly asks: What Will Serve the Group Now?

  • Help participants pursue or explicitly revise the purposes and goals that brought them together, and the norms and agreements for how they want to work together.
  • Stay focused on the agenda, framing questions and exercises from the methods selected within the time available.
  • Coordinate activities and contributors (as appropriate to the method/process chosen).
  • Model a spirit of openness, curiosity, respect & care.
  • Collect group results/data for harvest; display group work/progress.


Drawing from The Circle Way is the importance of one’s inner preparation to best serve the group’s intention and need.  Included here is developing practices to help us grow in comfort with silence.  Practicing the power of the pause gives everyone necessary time to think, to collect thoughts, self monitor reactions and responses, to allow for deeper engagement, and the emergence of collective wisdom.

Katharine W.jpg

Katharine Weinmann is an established practitioner, teacher and board member of The Circle Way.  Skilled in the artistry of deep listening, she notices and names elements of the emotional and shadowed fields so energy is freed for new possibilities and deeper connections.  As “companion,” she holds an unwavering appreciation for the inner life as a valuable and necessary source of creative and wise response to perplexing complexity.  A writer of life’s rescued moments, a lover of an evocative poem, with a new impression gleaned from travel or a “deep breakfast” conversation, Katharine brings appreciation for each of us making our way, to make a better way.  Oh, and she’s also a wicked cook who specializes in creating one-off “silk purses” from leftovers in the fridge!