In this episode, author and coach Leslie Stein helps us to discover the keys to successful facilitation.

After listening to this episode, you'll understand:

  • The difference between leading a meeting and facilitating
  • Why it may be better if you don’t know the subject matter
  • How to deal with multi-taskers
  • How large group facilitation is different  than small groups

Show Notes

Most people have misconceptions about facilitation.  Good facilitation looks like nothing.  Facilitation is a gentle guiding of people in the room and creating a container where they can do the work that needs to happen.

Being a successful facilitator requires some upfront preparation work to get the best out of people when they come together.  Understanding why you are coming together and allowing people to share information.

It’s like being able to get everyone to put their pieces of the puzzle on the table and together create a picture.


The Most Important Skills

The two most important skills needed to be a successful facilitator are curiosity and the ability to find patterns.

Being generously curious and asking great questions allows you to uncover information people don’t realize is important.  It also sets the tone for the meeting and allows people to be more open in their communication.

The ability to notice patterns may allow you to see things emerging before the rest of the group.  This allows the facilitator to redirect the group or ask a pointed question to refocus everyone on the goal.

To do this, the facilitator should not be a contributor to the conversation aside from helping the group communicate and discover information.  Facilitation is about the process, not the topic.  You don’t need to be an expert (or know anything) about the topic content.


The Key

One of the biggest keys to facilitation is helping the group understand the purpose of why they are coming together.  Help attendees understand why they should attend the meeting and how they can contribute.

A lack of clarity on the purpose may lead to other issues such as people multitasking or failing to attend the meeting.

A Purpose Statement answers the question “Why are we here?” and the Goal is an expression on the expected outcome of the meeting.  The purpose is the North Star that keeps everyone on track when they stray away from objectives.

A good purpose statement should have three qualities.

  1. Be short: The length should be 1-2 sentences
  2. Be testable: you should be able to test whether or not you achieved the purpose and expected outcomes. This can be done with a simple thumbs up or thumbs down vote.
  3. Be resonant: The purpose must be something worth spending time on.

If you have a strong purpose statement, attendees will know how they can contribute to the purpose of the meeting.


How to Prepare

To prepare for your next facilitation opportunity, give attendees the POW.  Include in the invitation the purpose, outcomes, and what’s in it for my (WIFFM).

The outcomes should express the expected result of the meeting and the what’s in it for my (them) helps attendees understand how they will benefit from engaging in the conversation.

The POW helps keep everyone focused and on track to achieve the meeting objective.

Near end of the meeting, leave enough time to test whether or not the purpose and outcomes were achieved and address any concerns from attendees who don’t think the group achieved the purpose.  For shorter meetings (about one hour), this can be done in 5-10 minutes.  The longer the meeting, the more time you’ll need for this test and wrap-up step.

Without a good facilitator, dysfunctional behaviors will likely come up in the meeting.  This may include dominating personalities, silence, multi-tasking, and more.  People will leave without accomplishing goal and feel that their time was wasted.


Large Group Facilitation

The larger the group, the more you need to give up control.  You can’t possibly be involved in every conversation and you’ll need to trust the group to have the appropriate discussions.

One approach to large group facilitation is Changing Frames.  To change frames, start with a whole group discussion to get some initial inputs and then shift to small groups to continue the conversation.  Give those small groups specific instructions such as having them answer a specific question.  This allows everyone to have a voice and provide input.

If you need to collect a lot of data in a short time, you can use the Rotating Flipcharts approach.  Start by parsing out the topics and have small teams go to one of the flipcharts.  Allow the teams 5-10 minutes to work at a flipchart and then rotate to the next flipchart.  When they see what the previous team at the flipchart wrote, they can add a check mark if they agree and an ‘X’ if they disagree before adding their own thoughts.


Listen to the full episode to hear all of Leslie’s tips for better facilitation.



Your Homework

Practice asking a question first.  Even if you have a potential solution, ask the group a question.  The group may come up with the same solution you were thinking or even something better.  If not, you still can share your solution option.


Links mentioned in this episode:

Leslie Stein

Leslie Stein

Senior Trainer at Agile Coaching Institute

Leslie attended West Point Military Academy and spent several years as an Aviation officer flying Chinook helicopters before finding what she believes to be her true purpose, facilitation & inspirational speaking.  The subtitle of her first book, “Penny Perspectives: Let Go of Happily Ever After & Invest in Happily Ever NOW!” beautifully expresses the work she’s here to help people do.  Leslie helps develop individuals into transformational leaders through building facilitation and coaching skills.

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