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Facilitation GuidelinesIn the role of facilitator, you can be worth your weight in gold by following these fifteen simple, yet critical facilitation guidelines.

15 Facilitation Guidelines

  1. Session leaders must observe carefully and listen to all that the group says and does. Be there! Totally immerse your body, mind, and spirit in the method of the group.
  2. Recognize all group input and encourage participation. Your ability to convey interest and enthusiasm in the group about the importance of the deliverable will be critical in your success as a session leader.
  3. Scan the group for nonverbal responses (including observers).
  4. Facilitation represents a helping mechanism. Ask questions rather than lecturing the workshop participants. Listen and keep your group involved.
  5. Stay on the task. Never lose sight of the holarchy. Avoid straying to other topics no matter how informative the topic may be or how much it may interest you or the group. Let the participants help keep the group on course if you are a weak process policeman.
  6. Of all the facilitation guidelines, the most important may be to stay neutral. Do not lose your neutrality. Eliminate your personal bias and opinions from the discussion. The goal remains for the participants to provide answers or options, not you.

  7. Learn to expect hostility, but do not become hostile with your group or any participant. You must develop an attitude of acceptance. You may not agree necessarily with what is being said, but you can listen, accept, and record their answers and opinions. Let the group evaluate the content.
  8. Avoid being the expert authority on the subject. You can be an authority figure, but your role is to listen, question, enforce the method, or offer tools and options.
  9. Put the participants on break at no longer than 90-minute intervals. Be specific about the length of breaks, typically ten minutes. Adhere to your times and always be punctual.
  10. Use breaks to free a discussion when it is deadlocked. Breaks give the participants a chance to clear their minds and likely come to a new understanding.
  11. Do not let your personal prejudices interfere with your role as a session leader. Let go of the need to win everyone over to your point of view. The group will do the work. You are there to serve the group. Assist them in reaching the outcome.
  12. During breaks, arrange the flip chart pages, taped on the wall, to build a histogram of progress made in the workshop.
  13. During transitions and before you break for lunch or the end of the day, summarize the workshop progress and next steps. Give the group a thought to ponder and commend them for the amount of work they have completed.
  14. Do not keep people too long (eight to nine hours are about as long as people can remain productive).
  15. Stop a workshop if the group is sluggish and difficult to control, even if they wish to continue. Explain that, when people are burnt out, no progress occurs.

Additionally, there are three guiding principles of effective facilitation.

The fifteen guidelines above may come and go, taking breaks for example. Over the course of any ceremony, event, meeting, or workshop however, the following principles stay in place from start to finish. They include:

  • First and foremost the principle of No Harm, explaining the purpose behind Safety Moments. For diversity and other mesages some embrace OE Moments as well (ie, Operational Excellence).
  • The second is Focus and staying vigilant tof remove distractions.
  • The third is managing and stressing Perspective or point of view and to leave egos in the hallway.

Guiding Principles


The principle of No Harm provides an essential basis for a group of people coming together to work and decide in a collaborative fashion. The facilitator must be both conscious of the principle and its enforcement in the role of process policeman. Nothing is more important to full participation than the feeling (from a participant point of view) that they will not be harmed by what they say.

Let us never forget that the reason for meetings is to generate deliverables but the reason for deliverables is to serve the people. People always come first.


It is virtually impossible to get a group to focus by telling them to focus. We must be wise enough, as facilitators, to remove all the distractions. Hence, the only items remaining are those that demand the group’s attention.

Distractions come in many varieties including physical (eg, temperature), emotional (eg, job security), intellectual (eg, future impact), intuitional (eg, impact on others), etc. Removing distractions is likely the biggest hurdle faced by facilitators. It cannot be accomplished by telling a group to focus. Facilitators must remove distractions so that the only thing remaining for the group is to focus on the issue at hand. Scope creep occurs where discussion advances beyond the scope of the deliverable, and frequently becomes a distraction, causing non-productive meetings.


When working for a company, organization, NGO, or other entity, participants must be reminded that they represent others through their role. Roles dictate different types of behavior and mannerisms. For example, most people treat a parent differently than a child or a cousin. Because they are in a different role, facilitators must remind participants about their role and the fiduciary responsibility of representing others, whether current or future stakeholders.


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.)

Want a free 10-minute break timer? Signup for our once-monthly newsletter HERE and receive a timer along with four other of our favorite facilitation tools, free.


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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