Will Rogers

by Will Rogers


The Four Keys to Unlocking Facilitation

Facilitation can seem like the daunting task of leading people through a meeting, discussion, or process.  Truth is… it was (and sometimes still is) very intimidating for me as well.  Some people are naturally gifted as facilitators but what I’ve learned in this over decades of facilitating countless sessions is that the best facilitators have a toolbox they leverage to help guide a group to a determined goal.  I would like to unpack a number of these tools with you to help you better engage groups that you might lead.


The Golden Rule of Facilitation

Before we dig into some of these tools, I do need to stop and address one thing… your single most important goal as a facilitator.  Stop for a moment and think about this principle.


Great facilitation leads to commitment, never consensus


I still remember the day my mentor in all of this explained to me this principle.  I also can point to every successful facilitation to an alignment with this principle and the many failures of misalignment.  Basically, you just can’t lead a group of people to a consensus, and truthfully, you don’t need to.  That’s a myth and it’s going to consume your time and energy.  But if you lead a group to commitment, then you can keep driving the overall plan and everyone has had a voice in that puzzle.  


Tips and Tricks to Facilitation

  • Set Expectations - give everyone the opportunity to pour out their personal expectations and what they hope to get from the session.  Come back to these expectations throughout your time together and check-in to see if the overall process is meeting their expectations.  Also, guide the expectations that aren’t in alignment with the overall session goals - explain to people how that’s a good expectation but not one you’ll tackle in this session.  And for expectations that didn’t feel fully met in the end, be sure to have a plan to follow up on those expectations after your time together.  

  • Have a Structure - I’ve heard that meetings with six or fewer people don’t need much structure but the minute you’re over six people, you need a structural plan.  I certainly agree with this idea… the larger the group the more structure is needed.  So as you enter a meeting, or leading a facilitated session, have a structure for what you hope to accomplish: the flow, how each piece works, time frame, expectations, interactive components, etc.  Your structure will set you up for success.  And for example, something like an innovation will flow like this: Discovery, Brainstorming, Clustering, Sketching, Prototyping, and Presentations.  This is just one structure model - the point is that you have one predefined.  

  • Set Rules of Engagement (ROE) - there are so many ways we could engage in a meeting, we just need to know what the rules of engagement are for each type of session.  People will go where you lead them… you just need to lead them.  You need to set ROE for what to contribute, what not to contribute, how to engage, what happens if you get off course, etc.  For example, in a brainstorming session, you would instruct people to write one idea per sticky note, write with a Sharpie, say their ideas out loud, explain it’s okay to have repeated and instruct them that criticism isn’t allowed.  Simple ROE like this sets everything up for better success.  

  • Guide People - yeah, it’s simple, but people need guidance and they need you to lead them to the end goal.  The end goal isn’t what you’re going to produce… it’s what they produce and it’s following the process to help get you there.  But they need (and the process needs) a guide to lead people to that goal.  Facilitation could really be simplified into one word… guidance.  This is the privilege and responsibility you have as the facilitator.  


Well, there are many more, but there was a good start on some of those tips and tricks that make a world of difference in how you facilitate a session.  


Cause Machine Solutions

Here at Cause Machine, we help facilitate strategy and innovation sessions for many types of community engagement strategies - it’s part of what we do, believing that community engagement is a mix of strategy and technology.  We hope these articles will help you better build your community engagement plans.  Schedule a demo today!


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