Naming the Work:  Employing Verbs in Facilitation

I collect verbs. Until recently I assumed I was the only eccentric out there, engaged in doing so, but then I was introduced to Darlene Goetzman’s Voracious Verbs cards for facilitators. She, too, collects verbs. The verbs I collect come from resumés and strategic plans, well chosen in those contexts to convey strategic and/or innovative activity: achievements in the case of resumés; future goals in the case of planning documents.

I use my collection of verbs in my facilitation practice as a way of getting participants to think about the work that is before them. I encourage them to think hard and out loud, to discern together the true nature of what it is they are trying to achieve. Undoubtedly a cognitive learning task, the exercise can also have affective resonance. We sometimes feel differently when we reframe the work. Think for a minute, for example, about the difference between criticizing an employee’s work and clarifying performance expectations.              

I facilitate visioning and planning sessions with public library boards and staff, and in that context, a shared experience of landing on the right verb can shed important light on the true nature of the work required to realize the vision. Imagine the shift, for example, from thinking about organizational change as being that of building a new culture, to growing a new culture. Choosing the right verb for the strategy leads to a more expansive and more realistic understanding of the tasks involved. Naming the work as growing a new culture leads to understanding it as gradual and incremental, as a process requiring nourishment and nurturing conditions. Had it been named as building a new culture, important aspects of the work might be overlooked, as well as unrealistic expectations as to how quickly it can be achieved.

In addition to my role as facilitator, I also coordinate a leadership development program for public library staff. That work has led me to pull together a new collection of verbs – some overlap with my active, strategic verbs – but new candidates, as well. In this case, I am interested in verbs that describe the work of leadership, in particular, the people side of leadership:  awaken, empower, navigate, listen, inspire, choreograph. I believe it can be an important reflective exercise for emerging leaders to think carefully about what it means to be a leader in their given circumstance. I think it might be helpful, for example, to reframe the work of delegating to that of sharing the work, sharing ownership, and sharing responsibility for making success happen.

The verbs we choose hold connotations, sometimes metaphors. If we think of our work as that of orchestrating, for example, we consciously or unconsciously, see ourselves as arranging and coordinating diverse musicians to create a single piece of music. 

I’ve used verbs successfully as both ‘Anchor’ and ‘Apply’ activities, depending on what I am asking participants to ponder. I find it a useful way to cultivate discernment and sense making.    

How have you used verbs to enhance your work?

Anne Marie Madziak is a library development consultant with Southern Ontario Library Service (, an Agency of Ontario’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport.