By: Michael Wilkinson

Reviewed by: Jennifer Hanna

The Premise:

Michael Wilkinson is the founder and managing director for Leadership Strategies – The Facilitation Company. He is one of the most influential experts in the field of facilitation. If you are a leader, trainer or facilitator, this book will provide the strategies necessary to lead actionable and impactful group sessions.

Most of us have experienced meetings that were highly ineffective, and in the worst cases, went completely off the rails. Far too often meetings lack purpose, clarity and true collaboration. Wilkinson gives us a roadmap for designing and executing group sessions that meet desired objectives and heighten group engagement.

Each chapter of the book highlights one of the principles of SMART facilitation. The principles focus on key skills including effective questioning, decision making and managing group dysfunction. Through engaging case studies, sample dialogues and easy to understand explanations Wilkinson demonstrates why meetings become unhinged and how to tackle the root causes. The book flows through all the principles in a very intuitive way and includes sections like ‘Why Do This?’ and ‘Exercise your Skills’ to build deeper understanding and promote application.

The Bottom-line:

It was easy to see why Wilkinson is such a successful facilitator through his clear and concise writing style. His storytelling approach made each situation come to life and quickly beamed me back to similar experiences of my own. This relatability allowed me to absorb the book’s lessons (which Wilkinson calls Secrets) and identify simple changes that would dramatically impact meeting effectiveness.

For Wilkinson, facilitation is a mandatory competency for leaders and organizations, and after reading The Secrets of Facilitation, I agree. It is truly a masterful ‘how to’ on group facilitation methods. I can’t believe that I let this book sit on my shelf for over a year!

Throughout all of my reading and training in the field of facilitation, I always felt like I was getting small nuggets of brilliance, without the big picture. After reading Michael’s book, I feel excited to have finally found an elusive gold standard.

In one of my favourite chapters, The Secrets of Managing Dysfunction, Wilkinson describes 15 dysfunctional behaviours including ones like ‘The Cell Phone Junkie,’ and “The Loudmouth’. He describes each behaviour and provides common causes, prevention strategies and intervention techniques. Each one of the sample dialogues and scripts demonstrates methods for resolving the dysfunction while honouring the perspectives and needs of others. This empathy and respect for all participants was one of the book’s valuable messages.

For any professional looking to avoid disastrous meetings, useless working sessions or misguided conferences, this is a book for you. It will provide even the most seasoned leaders and facilitators with valuable insights and surprising a-ha moments.


Recommended for anyone seeking to improve their facilitation skills. Practical and pragmatic advice.