Meeting participants are all too frequently confronted with questions that are too difficult to answer. When the facilitator receives a blank stare or extended silence after asking a question, there is a strong likelihood that the question is much to broad or vague, and thus difficult (rather than easy, as in facilitaere) to answer. Strive before your meeting to understand that Y = f (X) + (X) + (x) + (x), implying that your big question (Y) is a function of many questions, large (X) and small (x). Break it down and make it easier by using the single question approach.

SINGLE QUESTION APPROACH

The Single Question

The Single Question

Purpose

The following can be used to develop new questions that lead to a workshop method or agenda and the questions that ought be addressed during the meeting.

Larson developed the Single-Question agenda and here it is modified from Larson’s five-step agenda.  The approach is predicated on decomposing the big question that will provide the main answer or solution to a problem.  This quickly focuses groups on the essentials of the problem.

The Big Question           

What is the single question, the answer to which the entire group needs to know to accomplish its purpose?

Example:   A workshop to design a newsletter would begin with the single (and broad) question, “What is the content and format of this newsletter?”

Sub-Questions

What sub-questions must be answered before we can answer the single question we just formulated?  While preparing, talk to participants and find out what questions they need to have answered during the meeting.  Test your questions prior to the meeting for clarity, precision, and completeness.

Example:   Our newsletter workshop question can be answered when the following sub-questions are answered.

  • What are their interests?
  • What do they already know?
  • What do they want to know?
  • What is the purpose of the newsletter?
  • Which media would they prefer?
  • Who is the newsletter audience?
  • Why would they read a newsletter?

Sequencing                  

Sequence them in order—which need to be answered first, second, and so on.  This begins to yield topical flow—facilitators lead with coherent agenda steps that reflect a comprehensive list of questions.  The sequence is based on which answers help in answering subsequent questions.

Example:   For our newsletter, the questions might need to be answered in the following order.

  1. What is the purpose of the newsletter?
  2. Who is the newsletter audience?
  3. Why would they read a newsletter?
  4. What are their interests?
  5. What do they want to know?
  6. What do they already know?
  7. Which media would they prefer?

Organizing                  

Next group the questions. Participants participate better when we “chunk” information to create natural breaks.  Group the questions so that a single, definable product is developed at the end of each set of questions—or question.

Example:   In our newsletter example, we have four key products, Overall Purpose, Audience, Content, and Media.

  • Question 1 defines the Overall Purpose.
  • Questions 2 and 3 define the Audience.
  • Questions 4, 5, and 6 define the Content.
  • Question 7 defines the Media.

Example:  Our newsletter workshop simple agenda would be . . .

  • Introduction
  • Purpose of the Newsletter
  • Audience
  • Content
  • Media
  • Review and Wrap up

Comments

Advantages—Good if under time pressure and you need to build a 
solid agenda from scratch.

Disadvantages—Very difficult in conflict-ridden or very 
complex situations.

 


In conclusion, MG RUSH professional facilitation curriculum focuses on providing methodology.  Each student thoroughly practices methodology and tools before class concludes. Some call this immersion. We call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

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Furthermore, our Professional Facilitation curriculum immerses students in the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. Because nobody is smarter than everybody, attend an MG RUSH Professional Facilitation, Leadership, and Methodology workshop offered around the world, see MG RUSH for a current schedule.

Go to the Facilitation Training Store to access our in-house resources. Finally, you will discover numerous annotated agendas, break timers, and templates. If you value our contributions, take time to buy us a cup of coffee and punch LIKE or FORWARD.

In conclusion, we dare 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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