Facilitation: Thinking about the ends and means

I want to learn more about facilitation. What does better facilitation look like? Thinking about that will help me figure out what I need to learn and how.

Online facilitation

At work, I organize online brainstorming on specific client challenges. It’s a good idea, and there’s plenty of room for improvement.

The results of a perfect discussion would be:

  • Clients get the results of the brainstorm and think, “These are great ideas from different industries! I hadn’t thought of that combination before, and I want to learn more about those examples.”
  • We find interesting people whom we could involve in the preparation of the face-to-face workshop and future workshops.
  • We hear about relevant resources and examples.
  • Participants are happy and energized about the opportunity to work on client challenges.
  • Participants discover other people with similar interests, broadening their networks and continuing the conversation.
  • The discussion results in at least one initiative that the client chooses to explore further.

The challenges include:

  • Agenda flow: Still haven’t figured out how the Idea Lab results can best support the in-person workshop
  • Summarization: The account team doesn’t have time to do this, so I can take responsibility for the first draft instead, and then it’ll be easier for them to revise it. Are there more effective ways of presenting the information than the laundry list of ideas we currently have?
  • Deep vs broad: How do we balance deep insights from subject matter experts with broad insights from cross-industry experts?
  • Time: Participants may not be able to spend a lot of time thinking about the brainstorming questions, so we sometimes get surface answers

The factors I can influence are:

  • Reaching out to cross-industry communities for breadth: For example, HorizonWatch and the Web 2.0 for Business community are good to draw on.
  • Phrasing questions: What kinds of questions can bring out the mix of responses we’re looking for? How can we prioritize the questions?
  • Summarizing results: How can we better organize and present the information?
  • Using and developing tools: Last year, I developed mail merge and calendar entry enhancements that were very useful. How can I help further improve our processes?

In-person facilitation

In our face-to-face workshops, I occasionally help with the ideation segment, particularly for clients interested in social networking or Generation Y. We usually use a persona-based wild success story approach. Clients do their own visioning in workshops. How can we add value?

The results of a perfect session would be:

  • Energized and happy clients
  • A clear, coherent story that includes potential initiatives that can be explored and prioritized in the next sessions
  • A common vocabulary of personas for evaluating ideas

The challenges include:

  • Me sweating ever so quietly in front of the room
  • Infrequent opportunities to practise facilitating

The factors I can influence are:

  • Learning from other consultants and workshops: I can learn from brainstorming and persona-based techniques
  • Building a library of personas: so that I can pull together a persona deck quickly
  • Experimenting with where the session is in the agenda: Earlier = more shared vocabulary. Maybe start with persona definition and worst-place exercise?
  • Simulating workshops: How can I rehearse these things so that I can experiment with more ideas in less time? Can I do them in my spare time, perhaps with other audiences?

Visual facilitation

I like drawing. Visual notes are fun to make, and other people find them interesting too. I’d like to get better at many different facets, like visual recording and visual facilitation.

What would better look like?

  • Diagrams and graphic organizers help me think about things and share those thoughts with others.
  • During a workshop I’m scribing, clients and other participants like and learn from the visual record of the discussions
  • During a session I’m facilitating, the graphic structures make it easy for people to brainstorm and organize on the fly
  • When I’m summarizing results, visual tools make it easier for me to highlight important points and help people understand.

The factors I can influence are:

  • Practising visual recording and brainstorming: There are plenty of personal opportunities to practise that, hooray! Ideas, teleconference calls, talks, recordings, thoughts, blog posts…
  • Collecting graphic organizers and practising using them
  • Preparing more graphic versions of other presentations could be a good way to practise visual facilitation and summarization

I’ll share my notes in the Facilitation category of my blog. Looking forward to the adventure!

  • Paul

    For phrasing questions you may want to look at “Coaching 101: Discover the Power of Coaching” by Robert Logan and Sherilyn Carlton. It is a faith based method, but has good information for anyone that has to facilitate meetings or work with small groups to focus/clarify a problem and work toward a solution.