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“Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need weird shoes or a black turtleneck to be a design thinker . . .” so goes the article from Harvard Business Review June 2008 (pg 87). The author suggests five characteristics found in design thinkers (ie, innovators) that relate uncannily to core competencies required for effective facilitation.  Included (in alphabetical order) are Collaboration, Empathy, Experimentalism, Integrative Thinking, and Optimism.

Design Thinker: Collaboration

A Facilitator’s Profile is Much Like an Innovator’s Profile (Design Thinker)Increasing complexity of options and decision-making demands the involvement of many, rather than one. Lone genius has been replaced with cross-disciplinary subject matter experts. Select subject matter experts have the talent to succeed, the initiative and motivation to succeed, but frequently do not know how to succeed in a group setting. Many are subject matters across disciplines with experience drawn upon multiple backgrounds and organizations. At IDEO for example, they engage engineers, marketers, anthropologists, industrial designers, architects, and psychologists, among others.

Design Thinker: Empathy

Understanding that there is more than one right answer, seeking the best among multiple perspectives lends itself to creating an answer that did not walk into the meeting; rather one that is created during the meeting. To support creation, empathy in the form of active listening with a neutral session leader becomes critical.

Design Thinker: Experimentalism

Challenging subject matter experts to make their thinking visible, from the heart, can advance the rationale behind their thoughts that breed both consensual understanding and breakthrough solutions. Through observation and questioning, session leaders can inspire and transfer ownership of the meeting output.

Design Thinker: Integrative Thinking

While analytical methods are certainly helpful, integrative approaches support innovation. A neutral facilitator can help a group understand multiple perspectives and build a solution(s) to reconcile seemingly contradictory points of view. For example, one participant may prefer black and another prefers white. Instead of viewing them as opposing thoughts, how can we integrate both black and white? Immediate answers include options such as two-tone, plaid, polka dot, shades of grey, etc.

Design Thinker: Optimism

Successful session leaders rely on confidence in method rather than expertise around content to generate higher quality solutions. Practically speaking, however, optimism and confidence come from experience, so don’t forget to try, practice, and some more. There is usually more than one right answer. You may not be the best facilitator in the world, but you are the best facilitator your group can find.

Trust that in the role of session leader, they need you more than anything else, to lead with Collaboration, Empathy, Experimentalism, Integrative Thinking, and Optimism. Through method you can open the doors of perception that makes it easier for your group to develop breakthrough solutions.


Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

Our courses also provide an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, and 40 CDUs from IIBA, as well as 3.2 CEUs for other professions. (See individual class descriptions for details.)

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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 Facilitation Best Practices 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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