Breakout sessions or sub teams enable groups to capture more information in less time.   Breaking groups up is also effective at overcome the monotony of relying too much on narrative Brainstorming.  With strong active listening, the session leader (aka, facilitator) may take up to one-half of the total talk time by setting up context and providing thorough reflection of participant input. With ten participants in an eight-hour session, each participant probably contributes less than thirty minutes of individual airtime, unless you spice up your meetings with breakout sessions.


Breakout Sessions Increase Productivity

Additionally, and a very strong benefit of breakout session, all members (especially quiet ones) are given permission to speak freely, as their voice now defends their sub team’s position, not necessarily their lone voice.

Here are important considerations for managing face-to-face breakout sessions:

  • In advance, have sub team assignments predetermined and decide on the method for analyzing their input.
  • Publish your assignment or questions to be answered on a screen or in a handout. Be crystal clear with your instructions and the format you expect each sub team to provide or build when complete.
  • Keep the question or instructions posted (eg, on easel or with a projector) or print out and distribute to each sub team since teams frequently gather outside the main workshop room.
  • Give them a precise amount of time or deadline and monitor them closely for progress and questions. Five minutes is typically optimal. It is truly amazing what a group of people can accomplish in three to five minutes when they are provided clear instructions.


  • When they return with their contributions, you have already built consensus.  Now you need to reconcile the voice of a few sub teams rather than the voice of many individuals.
  • Other approaches to assigning members to sub teams may include birth dates (eg, months or days); birth position (eg, last child); latitude or longitude of home, office, or birthplace; mountain peaks, constellations, cut up cartoon strips (eg, Dilbert® . . . ), etc. Thematically strive to align with the project naming conventions.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

To help you access our in-house resources, (e.g., annotated agendas, break timers and templates used in our FAST Professional Facilitation Training) go to the Facilitation Training Store

Furthermore, the FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. 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 up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, 40 CDUs from IIBA, or 3.2 CEUs).

Finally, don’t forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and numerous 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.

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Building consensus around proper alignment helps groups identify gaps, omissions, overkill, and to confirm the appropriateness and balance of their action plan.

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