An alumnus wrote about preparing for an executive workshop between Europeans and Asians between two different companies. The deliverable intends to capture a strategy document of their alliance to work with each other in their supply chain. Specifically the alumnus inquired about anything in particular to avoid or encourage.

Specific Solution

Speak with the participants to confirm their explicit expectations and then manage accordingly. When conducting confidential, one-on-one interviews, participants will speak more openly about “anything in particular to avoid or encourage.”

General Considerations

  1. Icebreakers: Consider ice breaker activities that allow participants to share some of their social values, such as asking about a favorite childhood memory or describing their favorite holiday (ie, vacation) destination and activities.
  2. Names: Since an effective facilitator will not use people’s names, rather substitute open hands and eye contact to draw in participation and to pass the talking stick. During breaks and social times, or when discussing administrivia such as evening plans, strive to use people’s last names and titles, including respect toward academic and medical titles. During private introductions, handshakes are a reasonable default standard, perhaps with a slight bow—avoid hugging, arm humping, and shoulder thwacking as too much physical contact.
  3. Protocol: Emphasize the difference in roles. For example, we treat our parent different than we treat our children. We may treat customers different from suppliers. During the workshop, emphasize leaving titles and roles on the other side of the threshold so that everyone has permission to speak freely. When the Joint Chiefs meet, they may wear sweaters over their military stars, so that four-star generals do not claim superiority over three-star generals in a workshop environment. If the armed forces can encourage equality of voice, so can we.
  4. Punctuality: Punctuality is important. Keep your stated promises about when to start, including after breaks and meals. If not, your broken promise will frustrate participants and cause some to challenge the integrity of the session leader. If the session leader claims punctuality but permits delayed starting time, they may be seen as someone who cannot be trusted. Be sure to use FAST timers to get people to return from breaks and start on time. If necessary, offer a ten-minute break every fifty minutes, but start on time.
  5. Rhetoric: Avoid slang, colloquialisms, and American jargon. It is not uncommon for Europeans and Asians to speak in English and understand each other better than an American. While facilitating and providing reflection, stick closely to verbatim words and expressions rather than “interpreting.” If the participants felt there was a better term or expression, they would have used it the first time. Unless the participant asks for language assistance, be patient and avoid volunteering content, unless asked.
  6. Breakout Groups: Use breakout group frequently during the agenda, especially during the ideation step within brainstorming. Carefully plan your groups in advance, based on knowledge you obtain during interviews, and be certain to appoint a CEO (ie, chief easel officer) for each group. Strive to creatively assign group titles or names that harmonize with the theme of the workshop (eg, star constellations). Simply calling out 1,2, 3 indicates that the activity was not important enough to plan further. Understand methodologically that some times it is appropriate to create homogenous groups (ie, think alike) and other times it may be advantageous to create heterogeneous groups (ie, embrace pluralism).


Be certain to secure pre-meeting buy-in about the purpose, scope, and deliverables from the workshop. Ideally, explain your agenda through a metaphor or analogy. Next, assure that the method will engage the participants and not drag on and bore them. If you keep them engaged and focused, you will clearly have made it easier for them to build and decide. Do not discount the importance of a formal review and wrap-up. Plan on an approach the group accepts in advance to manage action steps or roles and responsibilities. Invest some time in the FAST Guardian of Change so that they agree on their primary messaging to other executives and stakeholders at the conclusion of the workshop. Moreover, be sure to obtain some feedback on your performance, so that you may continuously improve your talents as an effective, facilitative leader.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiative, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership-training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.