A set of techniques used by a workshop leader, or facilitator, to improve the operation of a workshop or project team meeting
. The benefits of applying facilitation techniques include:
- elimination of the effect of politics and power struggles on the information-gathering and/or problem-solving process
- enhanced communication among participants of the workshop session or meeting
- balanced participation required for achieving consensus
- well-paced activities moving towards the completion of one or more workshop deliverables
- enhanced creativity
- easier, more effective conflict resolution
- greater commitment to workshop results
- managed expectations
Facilitation is, therefore, also a process of harnessing the knowledge of the participants while managing participant behavior to accomplish a set of predefined objectives. Facilitation is concerned both with workshop content (i.e., the project deliverables) and the process used to conduct the workshop. (See Workshops
.) The goal is to provide an environment which strikes a balance. Facilitation techniques are applications of the principles and concepts of communication science, behavioral psychology, and group dynamics.
A facilitator must possess a variety of skills and knowledge to effectively conduct workshops and/or meetings. There are six basic skill clusters:
- Leadership - planning and project management, decision making and consensus building (see Decision Making techniques), and assertion.
- Communication - both verbal and nonverbal skills (the use of body language).
- Listening - various memory and feedback techniques (e.g., proactive listening), as well as understanding the concepts of filtering.
- Group Dynamics - motivation, conflict management, personality typing and behavioral psychology, and team building (see Team Building).
There are numerous facilitation techniques which could be used to conduct a project workshop. These techniques are typically grouped into the following categories:
- Meeting Management
- Information Collection and Analysis
- Decision Making and Problem Solving
- Behavior and Conflict Management, and
- Consensus Building and Commitment.
- To enable more effective enterprise engineering workshops and team meetings.
- To harness the knowledge of participants while managing participant behavior.
- Assess the situation, and choose an appropriate facilitation technique.
- Apply the technique.
- Assess usefulness of the application, and document lessons learned.
- Continue with another technique as appropriate.
During workshop preparation, review the agenda and identify all the facilitation techniques that can be used. While conducting a workshop and/or team meeting, monitor the situation, and select a new technique (not previously planned) or apply a technique appropriate to the situation. Mentally keep track of why the technique was chosen and the results of applying the technique in order to learn from the experience. After the working session is completed, jot down any relevant lessons learned and recycle for subsequent use. Always try to improve the execution of the technique and the selection of appropriate techniques for different situations.
Some general facilitation guidelines in applying the techniques include:
- keep the "reins" on the group loose at first, but adjust quickly when more direct, firm control is required
- pace the activities, using body language, verbal inflections of tone and pitch, ice-breakers, humor and other "breaks"
- support team decisions; be truthful, honest, and unmanipulative, being sure to explain your role as it may change during the course of a working session
Typical conventions for managing meetings, using rules of operation are:
- everyone participates
- one conversation at a time
- critique ideas, not people
- be prompt, agree to scheduled times
- limit digressions and limit "war stories"
- identify and resolve issues quickly and/or table them using the "five-minute rule"
- listen non-defensively, be alert, and encourage ideas
- share responsibility for team progress and results
- cell phones off & laptops off unless needed for the meeting (presentation material or recording meeting minutes)
Conventions for using ice-breakers include:
- use as a warm-up exercise at the start of the day or after lunch
- use as an energizing activity when the workshop tends to slow down
- keep the ice-breakers short; execute quickly
- keep the ice-breakers fun and nonthreatening
- do not disrupt the overall flow of the workshop
Guidelines for keeping participants motivated include:
- offer opportunities for participants to ask questions about workshop process and content
- be clear in establishing ground rules, roles, and responsibilities
- provide a clear description of purpose for each workshop activity
- ask open-ended questions to check on participant comprehension or clarification (see Questioning)
- thank participants for their contributions frequently (but be honest and sincere)
- take breaks and vary the pace of the activity, keeping discussions on focus
- provide coffee, soda, or juice to keep participants refreshed
General conventions for maintaining a proper, productive environment, minimizing communication barriers, include:
- regulate the discussion flow, keeping the participants focused
- be firm, fair, and honest, using feedback, paraphrasing, and/or by checking perceptions
- protect the inarticulate participants and the "quiet" participants
- manage "steamrollers" or overly aggressive participants by redirecting their comments or through passive involvement
When conflict does arise, follow the general response strategy:
- recognize and accept behavioral problems—don't ignore attacking statements or other nonproductive behaviors
- keep your own predispositions, perceptions, and emotions in check to protect against adding to the conflict
- defer action, if behavior is "minor" or short term, boarding issues to focus on facts and/or to clarify understanding; make a mental note of the behavior, and monitor over time
- begin responding in subtle ways (if appropriate), using nonthreatening body language or intervention
- increase use of verbal intervention to steer behaviors
- be direct, swift and firm when behaviors warrant
- take a break and address conflict issues off-line