People Management

“Jedi mind tricks” or “How to be a good facilitator”

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Having activism and pragmatism as dominant learner traits, I’ve always loved getting involved in out of the box learning activities. I know that I can’t be the only one who would like to do things differently and more fun. Group activities, like meetings and workshops, can be far more productive, than your common antipattern approaches (e.g.: having everybody sit only in their place, do as you are being told, no proactivity, no questioning etc), if done right. Personally, what I like most in a group activity is being the facilitator.

It’s not enough to just want to have fun. You should also possess some strong facilitation skills if you aim to reach the aformentioned productivity. But a good swordsman wouldn’t be that great if he didn’t have a sword, right? Therefore you will also need a set of tools to make your fun work… easier.

What is a facilitator? A facilitator brings structure and process to interactions, so groups can function effectively and make high quality decisions.

How can high quality decisions be achieved? Only if the facilitator strongly believes these 4 truths:

  • People are intelligent, capable and want to do the right thing
  • Groups can make better decisions than any one person can make alone
  • Everyone’s opinion is of equal value; regardless of rank or position
  • People are more committed to the ideas and plans that they have helped to create

Ok, checked, what next? The kick-off session, which shouldn’t take too long. During this session, always present these 2 general purpose tools:

  1. The meeting plan
    • Why are we having this meeting? (Clearly state the purpose)
    • How are we going to accomplish this? (Clearly state the process)
    • How much time are we going to spend here?
    • What is the general social contract? (General ground rules; e.g.: no phones, no laptops, we let people speak etc)
  2. The Parking Lot / The Fridge
    • In the room, have somewhere drawn either a parking space, either a refrigerator
    • Post here comments and ideas that are outside the current scope; it is imperative to capture pre-mature ideas in order not to lose the audience
    • Follow-up on those ideas offline, maybe schedule additional events to build on them;

Good, we covered the basics. Let’s keep moving forward and start the event that we are facilitating. From this point onwards, we should be prepared to face the unknown. Questions and situations might come up and we have to make sure that we keep moving forward, so that our purpose being there is accomplished. For this, we should use the following tools, depending on the context which has been created:

  1. Open-ended questions
    • The scope of these is to encourage discussions
    • Example: “What do you think the problem is?” or “Why did you choose this answer?” etc
  2. Close-ended questions
    • The scope of these is to limit discussion by narrowing down the pool of possible answers
    • Example: “Do we go left or right?”, “is it hot or is it cold?” etc
  3. Probing questions
    • The scope is to dig deeper when a cause has to be identified
    • Example: “Why?
  4. Repeating back
    • Never ever make assumptions without documenting them
    • Example: “So you’re saying that it would be better if we change this process now”
  5. Active listening
    • It’s not enough just to hear a person out. Communication is done also non-verbally
    • Look for particular gestures that might build on what the person is saying

We are past the half of this workshop. Content has already been filtered and we need to keep on moving, to generate ideas or possible solutions that add towards our scope. This is where the real fun begins. Let’s move to the actual Ideation phase.

Ideation can easily be done using these 2 techniques:

  1. Brainstorming
    • Fast paced idea generation. Laughter is a sign of good brainstorming
    • Check out this example right here!
  2. Nominal Group Technique
    • Focused idea generation. Write a partial sentence and force team to develop several possible endings to it.
    • E.g.: “The way we can acquire new customers is _______________

Refined ideas start to pile up. It’s now time to organize them using these tools:

  1. Affinity diagram
    • Ideas alike are categorized and clustered. Brings structure to brainstorming
  2. N/3
    • Reduce the total number of ideas by dividing it to 3
    • The audience is hence forced to deselect and to remove content
  3. Multi-voting
    • Each person has up to 3 votes
    • They can vote for 3 different ideas or give all 3 votes to a single idea.

Finally, if additional refinement needs to be brought to the table and make only 1 choice to go with, generally a Consensus Vote is put in place. How does it work? It’s simple. Just ask the audience if they can live with this solution. Ask for their feedback via a thumbs-up, thumbs-down or in between. If no thumbs-down are present, then it’s settled. If any thumbs-down do happen to be present, then apply probing questions, open-ended questions and close-ended questions to come to an agreement.

Now I’m sure you can already put into practice what you have just read.Think about what makes a good facilitator. Is it soft skills or hard skills? Why do you think that? Discuss it with somebody else and try clustering your ideas, see the patterns. If there are several good ideas, you know how to vote. Now repeat outloud the chain of thoughts and actions that led to that conclusion and give it a big thumbs up because I am sure you have reached the correct one.

Remember: be nice, have empathy, listen. Be human

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