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 and group problem solving
- easier, more effective conflict resolution
- greater commitment to workshop results
- managed expectations
- enhanced definitions of business requirements
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.
JAD (Joint Application Design), QFD (Quality Function Deployment) and VOC (Voice of the Customer) are some examples of facilitation activities/workshop.
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, interpersonal skills, decision making and consensus building (see Decision Making techniques), professionalism and assertion.
- Communication - both verbal and nonverbal skills (the use of body language). Strong command of the spoken language of the team, and of the technical terminology related to the product/deliverable.
- 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,
- Open Ended Questioning,
- Information/Requirements Collection and Analysis,
- Decision Making and Problem Solving,
- Behavior and Conflict Management, and
- Consensus Building and Securing Commitment.
- To enable more effective project engineering workshops and team meetings.
- To harness the energy, passion and knowledge of participants while managing participant behavior.
- Assess the situation, and choose an appropriate facilitation technique, based on your participants known preferences and communication needs, or the corporate environment.
- Apply the best possible technique, but be prepared to switch if necessary.
- Assess usefulness of the application of the facilitation techniques used, and document lessons learned from each.
- Continue to utilize appropriate techniques 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, actively listen and monitor the interactions. Select a new technique (not necessarily previously planned) and apply as 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, write 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:
Typical conventions for managing meetings, using rules of operation are:
- Prepare and publish an agenda reflecting the invitees, meeting objectives, discussion outline, plus time allotments and leads per discussion item. Being prepared will help with acquiring consensus and buy-in from the various stakeholders and business owners.
- Allow time on the agenda for ice-breakers/introductions and review of notes from prior meetings, and status updates as appropriate.
- Allow adequate agenda time at the end for "parking lot" and "pick-up" discussions, summary of agreements, agreement on new discussion topics for next meeting(s) and questions.
- Lay out the conventions for the meeting, i.e. guided discussion, raising hands, don't cut anyone off, check the limiting and judgmental language, etc. See list of possibles below.
- Keep the "reins" on the group loose at first, but adjust quickly when more direct, firm control is required
- Pace the activities and discussions to keep group motivated. Using body language, verbal inflections of tone and pitch, ice-breakers, humor, audible alarms/bells, or even a more organic use of a "break" to delineate activities/discussion times.
- Support and document team decisions; be truthful, honest, and do not attempt to manipulate the decisions. Explain your role as facilitator, and how it may evolve during the course of a working session
Conventions for using ice-breakers include:
- 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)
- recommend use of "parking lot" for off-topic/digressive discussions of merit - and address those as future agenda items.
Guidelines for keeping participants motivated 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, nonthreatening, and non-political
- do not disrupt the overall flow of the workshop.
General conventions for maintaining a proper, productive environment, minimizing communication barriers, include:
- offer opportunities for participants to ask questions about workshop process and content
- be clear in establishing goals, ground rules, roles, and responsibilities
- provide a clear description of purpose for each workshop activity/discussion
- ask open-ended questions to check on participant comprehension, clarification or agreement (see Questioning)
- thank participants for their contributions frequently (but be honest and sincere)
- provide coffee, soda, or juice to keep participants refreshed
- schedule breaks to accommodate physical and personal needs, and guide the pace of the activities/discussion, keeping discussions on focus
When conflict does arise, follow the general response strategy:
- regulate the discussion flow, keeping the participants focused
- be the firm, fair, and honest arbiter, 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
Ensure the expected outcome/s or objectives are clear:
- 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
- gentle reminder of the rules-of-engagement
- 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
Review objectives with the group at the beginning of the meeting, if these have been established in advance of the meeting. Alternatively, agree them with the group at the time.
Establish expectations: Ask about the expectations the participants have of you and each other. Then ask them to list their hopes and concerns of the meeting. If necessary, help them to set their own ‘ground rules’ whilst working together, i.e. acceptable behaviors.