Wednesday, July 02, 2014

5 of 11: Suggested Facilitation Strategies -Working with Groups You Know (Too) Well and Groups You Don't Know at All

How do you feel comfortable with a group you know (too) well; and create rapport with a group you don’t (or barely) know (without making it all about ‘you’)?

These strategies might be interesting to explore:

(1) Be really clear about your role as facilitator (see above points about building confidence and contracting).  If you are facilitating a group that you know well (potentially your colleagues, partners, peers, etc.) make sure they know what to expect and what not to expect from you as you put on your facilitator hat, as your contribution to the meeting will be quite different to how you would otherwise.  

(2) Bring your character and personality to the role, whilst being sensitive to neutrality – for example, avoiding anything that would ally you with some participants and potentially highlight or create a divide between you and others.

(3) Remember that you really don’t need to know all the individuals the group you are facilitating; you just need to know enough about them to make sure that you design an appropriate agenda!  Some facilitators like to study participant lists in advance; others prefer not to look at it at all (finding it less intimidating when you don’t know who’s who).  And you don’t always have the opportunity.  If you would like to get a sense of who is in the room without going person-by-person for introductions, prepare some questions for the intro session and do a mapping exercise giving you and all participants a better sense of who is in the room (e.g. stand if you come from the private sector / NGO / government / region x / have expertize in y / have more than z years experience in this area / have been involved in this process since the start / were on the drafting team / are new to this / etc.)

(4) Whether it’s a group you do or don’t know, explore whether or not the group has already collectively established ‘principles’ or ‘norms’ for working together.  If not, consider designing this norm-setting activity into your event, providing a sound basis for collaboration and opportunity for those with diverse learning styles and cultures to express their behavioural preferences.  Alternatively you can simply ask people how they like to learn and work.  Or in some situations you might consider introducing a diagnostic tool as a basis for launching such a conversation (such as MBTI, Strengths Finder or FIRO-B).

(5) Feature conversations around developing a common language (especially with a group of people you don’t know or that don’t know one another), to ensure that there is shared understanding.  This is not only from the perspective of linguistic difference, but also in terms of diverse use and understanding of words (as seemingly simple words such as ‘report’, ‘operations’, ‘project’ can have very different usage and implications depending on team culture, organizational culture, sector, etc.)  Producing a glossary of often-used terms may protect you from making any blunders, and save the group from much wasted time, energy and potentially even conflict.

(6) Whilst you ought to maintain neutrality on the content of the group work, you can show enthusiasm and emotion (if you judge appropriate) when it comes to the progress group is making on their objectives - both in terms of outputs and soft and hard outcomes.  After all, you want them to succeed with achieving their objectives and so celebrating their success (and yours!) is something most participants will be happy to do with you.  Show confidence in their ability from the outset; check-in with them as you progress.  Ask them how they feel.  Vocalize some of your own observations about their progress.  Make a comment to show you care, such as revealing the concern you had felt for a moment.  You don’t need to turn on the tears or the laughter to bring in emotion.

Related blog posts:

How (Not) to Have a Terrible Meeting (Norms / Principles / Freedoms)

Cross-Cultural Collision Caused by One Word: 

4 of 11: Suggested Facilitation Strategies - Choosing Methodologies that are Appropriate for the Group and Interesting for You, the Facilitator

Sometimes it is the methodology that is a challenge. How do you go about choosing methodologies that (a) are appropriate and motivating for the group; and (b) interesting for you?

Here are a few strategies to consider:

(1) Work with your client (and potentially the participants in advance of the event) to learn about the participants – their experience in meetings and workshops, as well as their learning styles and cultures.  Can the client provide you with specific information on participants?  Or is the client drawing on (sometimes unreliable) stereotypes in the absence of first hand information?  Remember that there are always exceptions to the rule / stereotype.  

(2) Find out about the groups’ experience with facilitation.  Have they ever had a professional facilitator? Do they have a different facilitator every week? Which methodologies are they familiar with?  Which are their favourites and why?  With which are they bored / fatigued? Are they sick of facilitators “trying too hard” and making it more about the methodology than outcomes? What is their appetite for trying new things?

(3) Assess whether it’s appropriate to try the latest, creative idea you picked up and have been eager to test-run; or whether the group is taking its first baby-steps towards an interactive and participatory approach, and they need a softly-softly approach for now (small group discussion may be a revelation!) – until you have built their confidence in you and expert facilitation practice.

(4) In general, try to design into the agenda a variety of approaches including individual work (which may be silent thinking time), conversation in pairs, small group work and (usually minimal) plenary discussion.  And be attentive to the sequencing so that even if someone won’t speak in plenary, they may have already had the opportunity to shared their ideas in a smaller group context and others who are more vocal can then carry their contributions forward in plenary.

(5) Look to design activities that provide participants with choice in terms of the way they approach it.  They might surprise you with their creativity!  For example, if you need to do a quick visioning exercise, rather than prescribing the means by which people need to report back a small group conversation to the group you might ask them to produce one of the following of their choice: a graphic representation, a series of behaviour-over-time graphs, a newspaper front page, a webpage, a keynote speech, a slogan, a role-play, a poem, a rap, a mime, a shop window, a UN notice board, or to come up with something totally their own.

(6) If you’re a “learner”, keep things interesting for you by signing up to facilitation blogs like and e-newsletters, such as for workshop games, or follow facilitators on Twitter for tips and tools.  Join the International Association of Facilitators, or a local branch near you.

(7) Remember that methodologies are only as good as the questions you ask.  Whilst you may be keen to have some fun and try something new, the most important thing to focus on is whether or not you are asking the right questions, in the right way. 

Related blog posts:

10 Different Ways to Do Anything?  Get Inspiration Everywhere

Me and My Multiple Intelligences.  We and Ours