Facilitated Sessions
A highly structured meeting in which the meeting leader (the facilitator) guides the participants through a series of pre-defined steps to arrive at a result that is created, understood and accepted by all participants.


The following guidelines will help to ensure that our sessions run smoothly and that we achieve our objectives.

Leave rank/position in the company at the door. When we convene for these meetings, our objective is to provide as creative an atmosphere as possible. Pulling rank can stifle creativity. When must all actively promote ourselves as equals in the workshop sessions.
Participants need to suspend judgment while generating ideas and discussing issues. We should only judge under limited circumstances. For example, we need our judgment to prioritize or vote on issues. However, the key is to listen and learn from other participants. Try to avoid using "killer phrases" such as, "That will never work," or "That is a terrible idea." Finally, recognize that not everyone in the room may share your opinion and we must respect the opinion of others.
Participants should place a high priority on both large group and break our group meetings. Interruptions to meetings fall under the "100 Mile Rule." This rule states, "No one should be called from the meeting unless it is so important that the disruption would occur even if the meeting was 100 miles away from the work place
All meetings should start and end on time. This adherence to schedule makes it easier to stay on target with the agenda.
Everyone's viewpoint is valuable. Every participant can make a unique contribution to the project. Therefore, we must emphasize the importance of both speaking freely and listening attentively. If unequal participation is a problem, we must structure discussions so that everyone can contribute. Keep your comments short so that all participants have the opportunity to participate. Dominating the discussions will not only limit others' participation, but may also intimidate some of the group members.

Basic Conversational Courtesies

Listen attentively and respectfully to others; do not interrupt; one conversation at a time; and so forth.
We will take scheduled breaks periodically throughout the morning and afternoon sessions. We will limit these breaks to 15 minutes. All participants must return from breaks on time to enable the group to meet the workshop objectives.
Participants will be asked to reach decisions by consensus. Consensus is more efficient and allows greater buy-in to decisions than voting or unanimous agreement.

What is the role of the facilitator?

The facilitator must know the steps of the process from beginning to end, and he must carefully guide the participants through each phase.
From the rousing opening statement, to the closing words of cheer, the facilitator must ignite a fire within the group and keep it well lit. The facilitator must establish momentum and keep pace.
Bridge Builder
Where other people see differences, the facilitator must see similarities and use the similarities to establish a foundation for building bridges to consensus.
Throughout the session, the facilitator must watch carefully for potential signs of strain, weariness, aggravation, dis-empowerment and respond in advance to avoid dysfunctional behavior.
While it is almost always better to avoid a direct confrontation between participants, should such an event occur the facilitator must quickly step in, re-establish order and direct the energy toward constructive resolution.
The facilitator is ultimately responsible for keeping the session on track; this means tactfully cutting short irrelevant discussions, preventing detours off the main course and maintaining a consistent level of detail throughout.
At every opportunity to do so, the facilitator should praise the effort put forth, the progress made, and the results achieved. Praise well, praise often, praise specifically.

What are the other roles in a facilitated session?

Project Sponsor
Sets the overall objectives for the session. Typically kicks off the facilitated session to demonstrate support for the activity.
Project Manager
Oversees the content of the facilitated session to ensure that the project objectives are being met.
Documents the results of the session as recorded by the facilitator, being sure to avoid any paraphrasing or alteration.
Tracks the time of each activity in the session, and alerts the group when an activity exceeds the time allotted.
Participates in the facilitated session by contributing to the discussion and ensuring that the content is accurate, acceptable and sufficiently comprehensive; should arrive at the session prepared to participate.
Quietly observes the session activity without impacting the result.

Ensure that you have a clear understanding of the session objective:

  • Why are we having this session?
  • What is the purpose?
  • What are the expected results from the session?
  • What is it that made you ecstatic?
    Pretend for a minute that we were at the end of the session and about to wrap up,and you were ecstatic because as a result of the session we... Fill in the blank.

Your room and other aids:

  • Use a "horse shoe" or "open U" or semi circle seating arrangement.
  • Post ground rules, parking boards and session objective and agenda at the front.
  • Ensure adequate supplies are available (flip chart, multi-colored markers, tape, name tags, coffee, cups, water).

Your opening words must:

  • Inform the participants about what is going to happen through the session objective.
  • Get them excited about the process by giving them a clear vision of the overall result to be achieved and the benefits.
  • Get them involved in the process by having them speak as early as possible (e.g. asking their personal objectives).
  • Empower them by discussing the important role they play in the process, the reason they were selected, the authority that has been given to them, etc.

Getting Started:

  • Arrive early
  • Set up
  • Interact with Participants during the gathering period
  • Kick-off promptly
  • Give opening statement
  • Review purpose, agenda, ground rules, parking boards, and housekeeping

Sample Ground Rules:

  • Everyone speaks
  • Respect the speaker
  • Everyone in equal
  • No idea is dumb
  • Avoid “sidebar discussion”
  • Start on time/end on time
  • “Choo, Choo”
  • (think outside the nine dots)

Parking Boards:

Help you keep the group focused by having a place to “park” discussion topics that don’t need to be addressed at the moment they come up. By “parking” a topic, you are telling the participant that the input was valuable and will be addressed at a later date.
Issues List
items relevant to the session that need to be discussed later in the session or outside the session.
Decisions List
decisions that are made by the group that should be documented for future reference.
Actions List
actions to be performed sometime after completion of the session.

Warm up the Group:

It is typical for participants in a session to be initially reserved and very willing to allow others to speak first. Therefore, it is not unusual for the first question the facilitator asks to be met with complete silence. To ensure that you avoid this question/silence pitfall, it is important to warm-up the group. Get them used to responding, first non-verbally, then verbally:
  • Ask a series of pre-questions (at least two) which lead up to your primary question
  • Structure each pre-question so that the response requires some level of non-verbal participant involvement (e.g. raised hand)
  • “How many of you have ever participated in a facilitated session?”
  • “How many of you have ever participated in a requirements definition project?”

Focusing the Group:

  • Label your charts
  • Avoid detours by using
    1. Objective
    2. Ground rules
    3. Parking Boards
    4. Redirecting questions
      (“What you are saying is interesting,should we put it on the issues list...” and then focus back)
  • Be conscious of time constraints

The Seven Deadly Sins of Facilitation:

More times than not, these sins by the facilitator will lead to some form of dysfunctional behavior by one or more members o the group. If the facilitator continues his/her behavior, full scale revolt by the participants is quite possible.
  1. The facilitator chooses which comments are worthy to be recorded on the flip charts.
  2. The facilitator interprets the words that are spoken and records the interpretation, instead of recording what is said.
  3. The facilitator permits the group to wander away from the stated objective for extended periods of time.
  4. The facilitator permits the ground rules to be broken without taking visible, corrective action.
  5. The facilitator is perceived as losing neutrality and favoring one position over another.
  6. The facilitator speaks emotionally charged words at a session attendee or permits a session attendee to speak emotionally charged words to another, and does not take visible, corrective action.
  7. The facilitator allows an atmosphere of distrust or disrespect to build between himself/herself and the session attendees.

The Power of the Pen:

  • Write first, discuss second.
  • Write what is said, not what your heard.
  • Write so they can read it.
  • Edit by adding, use a different colored pen.
  • Slow down a speaker who is talking too fast by speaking as you write.
  • If more than one person tries to speak, order the speakers.

Information Gathering:

to gather detail
to generate ideas
to categorize
to identify the most important items
Type Purpose Example
Direct Probe Challenge or probe Why is that important?
Indirect Probe Probe/clarify Is the reason that’s important because...?
Redirection Get back on track That’s a good point. Can we put that on the issues list?
Playback Confirm It sounds like what you are saying
Leading Question Lead to other thoughts Are there solutions in the area of...?
Prompt Question Keep the ideas flowing What else...
Tag Question Get acknowledgment That’s important, isn’t it?
Float an Idea Give a possible solution What about...? What are the

Closing the Session:

  • Review activities performed during the session.
  • Review all parking boards, decisions made and issues outstanding
  • Identify a spokesperson
  • Close the session by thanking the participants and reviewing next steps