Today’s Facilitation Guidelines (because tomorrow they’ll be different!)

September 15th, 2008

Today I facilitated a workshop for the first time in about five weeks. The gift of time between facilitations meant I could reflect on what to do and not do. I was struck by how little time I spent in front of the group – about 50 minutes over seven hours.

Give ’em a task then get out of the way – write up the focus or question and the task, organise the group if needed, check for understanding then get the hell out of there

Make it meaningful – encourage everyone to see how their perspective contributes to the topic and where they fit in the bigger picture. Let them discover this for themselves.

Allow people to follow their passion – give people ample opportunity to self-select what they want to work on

Timing – if people are engaged and contributing, allow it to continue; don’t be sidetracked by those who superficially explore a topic, finish first, and want everyone else to conform to their speed of working

Involve the client/sponsor in making decisions about what to do next. Beats me how anyone can plan what to do next, before the product from the previous activity has even been created. Use what emerges as your guide to what to do next. Look at it and consider what will value add. Check with whoever is actually going to use it after the workshop. Make a decision, then do it. Don’t over-analyse or do the work on behalf of the participants.

Create movable data – information written on cards or anything that can be moved around is much easier to work with than lists 

Recognise that people will struggle with convergence – just about every workshop involves some aspect of divergence (exploring) and convergence (pulling together). Divergent thinking is fun and energising; convergent thinking is hard work and sometimes frustrating. Let them struggle.

Don’t answer questions –  when people want to know how to do something, or what criteria to use to make a decision, or what is meant by the question, they’re being lazy, or dependent, or both. Ask them what they think, what would they do, how would they answer, then let them get on with it.

Extend the event horizon (hat tip to Matt Moore) – find ways to keep the group engaged on the topic beyond the life of the workshop: social networking, a wiki etc – and when it’s no longer needed, kill it off.

But more importantly…


What are your facilitation guidelines?


What would you add to my list?




5 Comments so far

  1. Stuart Reid on September 16, 2008 3:44 am

    I’d offer:

    Don’t worry about the content – your job as facilitator is to support an opportunity for the participants to have a conversation about something that matters to them. If it matters to them, they can deal with the content, so you won’t have to.

  2. Chris Corrigan on September 16, 2008 5:23 am

    This is good stuff Viv. I like the extended event horizon and I think there is a corollory to that: the invittion process leading up to the event should be an extension backwards in time of the start of the meeting.

    At any rate this is a good list…I might include it in an upcoming workbook for some Art of Hosting training if that\s all right…

  3. Viv McWaters on September 16, 2008 8:48 am

    Stuart, Yes! It’s their content, and God forbid that I would want to try and learn all that stuff before facilitating – apart from being impossible, who would want to? I do play ‘clarifier’ though, on behalf of those in the group who may not speak up for fear of being seen as ‘dumb’. For example, I’ll ask, for technical terms or jargon to be explained. Yesterday it was: “Explain to me again the difference between mitigation and adaptation – in 20 words or less?’

    Chris, thanks for reminding me of the lead up – warming a group up to a workshop is, of course, important. Makes our job as facilitators much easier. And yes, please use my stuff wherever it’s helpful. I’ll probably keep adding to it and publish it on resources over on my Facilitating With Confidence site.

  4. Stephani Roy McCallum on October 4, 2008 11:18 am

    Hi Viv – I’ve been cruising around, looking for inspiration on an article I need to write, that I think might be about applying Crowdsourcing principles in a face to face setting…..and it’s not coming together. So I thought I’d wander around and see what comes to me. I ended up on Chris’ site (Hi Chris), and from there found your list. It’s a great list, and I too would like to use it in a facilitation class I’m teaching next week. I might add two more – Question the assumptions in the room – yours and those of participants. Perhaps also – A Little Less Control, A Little More Freedom. Let the group go where they need to go, lose the structure wherever you can, even by letting thing get a little uncomfortable. That discomfort is a great place to bring out the deeper answers, and I’m a big fan of playing in the “muck”.

  5. Viv McWaters on October 4, 2008 12:37 pm

    Hi Steph – thanks for dropping by. I’d be happy for you to use my list – and I love your additions, especially ‘a little less control’. I was facilitating an open space gathering yesterday and someone came up to me and said they thought people were looking for direction. They were in the midst of discussions around a really complex community and environmental issue, so I suggested that if they couldn’t self manage in a workshop how on earth were they going to manage to make a difference in the midst of all the uncertainty and complexity that surrounds their issue. It was a good reminder to me (again) not to step in and fix things – as you say, to allow them to ‘play in the muck’

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