Facilitators rely on hundreds of tools to gather information, support decision-making, encourage innovation, build camaraderie, strive for higher quality, or guide a facilitator through an unplanned pathway.  Therefore, your selection of the “best” structured facilitation tools depends on many of the factors discussed below.

Overview of Helpful Structured Facilitation Tools

A note of caution—beginning facilitators often have a difficult time feeling comfortable because of the newness of the tools and some experienced facilitators overuse a tool—they may forget that when you are comfortable using a hammer, not everything is a nail.  Some guidelines to follow when using tools:

  • There is more than one appropriate option.  For example, we can capture initial input or meaning from participants through the Brainstorming (ie, narrative), Creativity (ie, drawing), PowerBalls (ie, iconic), or SWOT (ie, numeric).
  • Only use a tool if it is correcting a problem or situation.  The tool must add value or it distracts from the method.  For example, do not lead a team-building exercise if the team is highly functional.
  • Do not ask the group permission to use a tool.  You are the leader and need to set the method—so do it.
  • Never present the tool as a game or a gimmick.  This often leads to resistance.  Discipline your rhetoric when explaining the Purpose tool.  For example, do not ask about ‘today’s purpose’ since you are expected to know the purpose of the meeting.
  • Except for team building tools, explain the deliverable from each tool used and how it supports completing the deliverable.
  • Do not be afraid to use a new tool—they have all been field-tested and work well when used properly.
  • Build tool contingencies into your agenda—ie, plan to use a specific tool but if a problem arises, do not be afraid to substitute for something more appropriate.
  • For tools designed to correct situations such as team dysfunction and lack of creativity, remember that most groups did not become dysfunctional in ten minutes and the situation will not be corrected through a ten-minute exercise.  It often takes numerous exercises and a great deal of time to see a real difference.  Do not give up and you will earn their respect for perseverance.

The “Right” Structured Facilitation Tool

Selecting the best tool to use by understanding the desired outcome.  Avoid becoming so comfortable with one or two that those are the only tools you use.  To select an appropriate tool:

  1. Identify the problem.
  2. Define the desired outcome.
  3. Review the tool selection map on the forthcoming pages to help determine which tool helps achieve your desired outcome.

Team-Building Tools

Suggested steps for effective team-building exercises include:

  1. Prepare your materials in advance, along with prompts and assignments (eg, CEO and team names), and rehearse new or complicated tools.
  2. Provide clear and explicit instructions, preferably posted or written down as handouts.  Emphasize any rules.
  3. Monitor group activity closely, especially in the beginning and make yourself readily available for clarifying areas of fear, doubt, or uncertainty.
  4. Compare the purpose with the output.  Reinforce the learning and how it applies to accelerating the group’s performance toward your meeting or workshop deliverables.

Decision-Making Structured Facilitation Tools

Use the following matrix to help guide you to the most appropriate decision-making tools based on the type of information 
(ie, qualitative or quantitative) and complexity of the decision 
(ie, concrete or abstract).

Decision-Making Matrix

Decision-Making Matrix to Guide Selection of Structured Facilitation Tools

Additional Sources for Structured Facilitation Tools

Continue to add to your tool chest.  When co-located in an enterprise with other facilitators, build a Community of Practice (ie, CoP) that archives tools, visual prompts, and retrospective reviews. Strive to speed up selection and avoid repetition for your participants.

For additional exercises and tools for facilitators look at Games Trainers Play and More Games Trainers Play by John Newstrom and Edward Scannell, New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, various.  You can also order the IAF (International Association of Facilitators) Handbook of Group Facilitation and other resources at Amazon.com among others.  There are thousands of tools and resources for facilitators and team-building tools in English and other languages.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

Finally, for additional help, 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 https://mgrush.com/shop/.

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. Attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership-training workshop offered around the world. See MG Rush for a current schedule. FAST provides 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. Change or Die provides detailed workshop agendas.  Therefore it includes 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.


Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Monthly Facilitation blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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