Wednesday, June 25, 2014

3 of 11: Suggested Facilitation Strategies - Designing a Thorough and Detailed Facilitation Agenda that is Structured AND Flexible

This set of suggested strategies aims to help you in designing a thorough and detailed agenda that is (a) structured, logical and outcome-driven; and at the same time (b) flexible, allowing for flow and emergence. Here are some things to consider:

(1) Make sure you are really tuned in to the detail of ALL of the desired outcomes for the event.  Often clients have a notion of these.  However, rarely are these articulated in a sufficiently nuanced fashion.  For example, rarely is due attention given to both to the desired outputs (such as a written vision statement, an action plan, a letter to policy makers), the ‘hard outcomes’ (such as consensus going forward, decisions taken, items prioritized) and the ‘soft outcomes’ (such as sense of ownership, enthusiasm and energy for going forward, improved relationships between group participants).  Prepare yourself well, ensuring clarity around these objectives AND how they are prioritized by your client and participants.  

(2) Share the desired outcomes with the group at the start.  Then keep checking in with the group on progress towards these achieving these.  If you are making good progress, great.  If you are not, assess (perhaps with input from the group) whether or not what you had planned is going to get you there, and then determine whether you proceed as plan or adapt accordingly.

(3) Check your design is sufficiently structured by asking yourself (and possibly others) what you would expect to get out of each session, giving some examples of how the diversity of participants would answer the questions posed.  If this isn’t crystal clear, think further about the questions and sequencing of sessions.

(4) Plan an iterative process that is – by design - both structured and highly emergent - where the outcomes from one session naturally flow into the next, and determine the focus of conversation.   For example, you may have a tightly timed-agenda with sessions progressing from plenary presentations to table discussions to reflections in plenary to voting on the most important points to small group work on those points.  Highly structured?  Yes.  And at the same time what the group prioritizes to focus conversation on is entirely up to them. For this to work, just remember that it is imperative to be very clear about the logic of the structure and the questions you use to guide the thinking of the group in the early sessions.  Note also that transitions between activities takes time.

(5) Schedule a session where participants determine the agenda - for example, how about incorporating a session in the agenda drawing inspiration from Open Space Technology?  Participants can openly propose table discussions and then other participants choose from this marketplace of offerings which conversations they join. This can be very valuable when people come with something they desperately want to share or discuss with others, but which doesn’t fit perfectly in the logic of the agenda and achieving the desired outcomes.

Related blog posts / links:

2 of 11: Suggested Facilitation Strategies - Building Confidence in Yourself, and Others in You, as the Facilitator

This set of suggested strategies is focused on building (a) your stature and confidence as facilitator; and (b) building the confidence of others in you as facilitator. Here are some things you can try:

(1) Model good facilitation practice from your earliest conversations with clients, building confidence from the start.  Prepare for your conversations with clients, considering how you will facilitate the conversation(s) with them.  Be clear on the objectives for your preparatory conversations, as well as the outputs (e.g. physical products such as a design brief for the event) and outcomes (such as a decision regarding the future collaboration).   Consider how much time is available and how you will use that time together.  In some cases you will be having this preparatory conversation with a client group, so you may also like to think about activities you can use to efficiently gather the information needed, as well as to build their confidence in your competencies.  

(2) Consider asking someone else (in authority) – the meeting Chair or host – to introduce you and your role as facilitator, vesting you with authority guiding the process.

(3) “Contracting” (agreeing what you will do and will not do) is key.  In the preparatory stages, you will have already had a contracting conversation with your client. Upon opening the event, re-contract with participants regarding your role as facilitator.  Have a conversation with participants to explain the role you have been invited to assume, what you will bring and what you expect from participants.  

(4) In order to help you with contracting with the group, prepare checklists for yourself and/or a script to be sure that you cover the key points you would like to make.  You may also like to put key points on a flipchart sheet that remains in the room as a reference document.  In the process, acknowledge any technical / content knowledge you have.  At the same time, explain that as a facilitator your role is to manage the process and not the content, and that (even if you have technical expertize) you will defer technical questions addressed to you to others in the room. 

(5) Highlight the content expertize of the participants (you may like to ask a few questions to the whole group to show this - such as asking them to add up all the hours of professional experience with the topic at their tables and then totalling this in plenary, or asking them the number of hours of engagement with the group project / initiative so far, and/or doing a quick mapping exercise to show representation of different stakeholders among participants.)  Honouring the expertize of participants and differentiating your role as a facilitator in this way will reassure them that you will continue to do this throughout your time together.  

(6) Share with participants select elements of the process design (at appropriate moments) and why these have been chosen, ensuring them that expert time and thinking has gone into this.  In doing so, explain why the process design element is in the interest of the group.  For example, if you have planned some small group work, provide the rationale for doing so (perhaps giving some figures about number of minutes each person can participate if each makes a statement in plenary) and how it is the responsible way of honouring the experience everyone can bring and maximizing the knowledge sharing and learning during your time together... after all time is money :)

(7) Build your confidence by practicing in safe environments

(8) Don’t give yourself too much to say in the opening moments.  Plan a methodology or an exercise that gets participant voices in the room whilst you relax into the role.  (For most facilitators, it's the first few sentences that are the hardest…)

Related blog posts:

By the Numbers: The Power of Math in Group Processes:

1 of 11: Suggested Facilitation Strategies: Me, My Behavioural Preferences & My Facilitation Practice

There is no one perfect Facilitator profile. Whilst the International Association of Facilitators ( describes 6 Competencies of a Facilitator that we must all master, when it comes to our profiles we can be extrovert or introvert; we can be thinkers or feelers; we can be debaters or peace-keepers; and so on.  What is key is that we know who we are, and that we have strategies in place to ensure that who we are affects our facilitation practice… for the good.

In our “Facilitation by Design” training programme – run within organizations convening many stakeholder conversations - we expressly address how who we are affects our facilitation practice.  With reference to the diversity of diagnostic tools and assessments that participants have engaged with prior to the training, we consider behavioural preferences and explore what this might mean for our work as facilitators. 

Take, for example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) that suggests psychological preferences in how we perceive the world and make decisions; the Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation instrument (FIRO-B) measuring interpersonal needs and preferences with regards our interactions with others; and the StrengthsFinder personal assessment tool that identifies individuals’ top talent themes.  Reflecting on behavioural preferences - as illuminated by these tools and many others besides - we ask: “How are our preferences manifesting in our facilitation practice?” “How are they affecting how each of us works with groups in a facilitation role?” 

Building on these reflections, each participant then identifies three “Learning edges” or areas on which they would like to focus particular attention in order to strengthen their facilitation practice.  Possible strategies for doing so are suggested.  

In a series of 10 blog posts to follow, we will share insights into recurrent learning edges for facilitators and, for each, some suggested strategies for strengthening facilitation practice.  

Recurrent Learning Edges For Facilitators