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Twelve Behaviors that Define Great Facilitators

Great Facilitators

Today we bring you twelve significant behaviors that define successful, professional facilitators. (ie, GREAT Facilitators) Our scope focuses on structured facilitation (NOT Kum-Bah-Yah). Structured facilitation requires a balanced blend of leadership, facilitation, and methodology. (An alpha sort sequences the following, not order of importance).

The first three behaviors:

  • 7:59 AM preparation and interviews (ie, managing expectations and ownership). Increased experience forces top notch facilitators to value preparation more than ever. No class, panacea, or silver bullets help facilitators who show up without preparation.
  • Active listening (ie, seeking to understand rather than being understood). Of facilitation’s core skills, active listening remains the easiest to understand and the hardest to do.
  • Annotated agenda (ie, visualizing everything the session leader does or asks in advance). Preparation or writing down what you intend to say and do remains critical. Great facilitators don’t rely on memory. They write it down.

The next three behaviors:

  • Common nouns and purpose give rise to natural categories
 (ie, great tool and inherent rationale that supports grouping or “chunks”). A professional NEVER asks a group HOW they would like to ‘categorize a list’. Common nouns are symptomatic of the likelihood of clusters. Normally categorizes arise from shared or common purpose.
  • Holarchy 
(ie, interdependent reciprocities—contextual explanation of how it all fits together). When active listening fails to resolve conflict, appeal to the organizational objectives. They drive the determination of whose argument should prevail. Begin with project, then program, then business unit, and if necessary, enterprise objectives. The holarchy provides the key to alignment and a professional knows how to use it.
  • “I” no longer
 (ie, substitution of pluralistic and integrative rhetoric for the first person singular). Professionals avoid reference to themselves alone. Everything ‘we’ do is for the benefit of them and you, not ‘me.’  The least professional words a facilitator could utter — “Help me.”

Three more behaviors:

  • Life Cycle: Plan Acquire Operate Control (ie, great tool and inherent rationale behind all life cycle methodologies). Whether understanding requirements or building an action plan, blue-chip facilitators mandate the discovery of at least four activities (likely more) by ensuring at minimum one within each of the four primary life-cycle stages.
  • Numeric SWOT leads to consensual actions (ie, Easily the best way to prioritize hundreds of items and build consensus around “WHAT” needs to be done to support the purpose). So many untrained facilitators build four lists, hang them on the wall, and ask “Now what?” Traditional SWOT remains an awful method for galvanizing consensus. Outstanding facilitators consider the MGRUSH quantitative approach instead.
  • Right-to-left thinking or, focus on deliverable first (ie, starting with the end in mind—forcing the abstract into the concrete). Leadership demands understanding what ‘DONE’ looks like. Top-flight professionals constantly apply a ‘DONE’ consciousness against the meeting deliverable, agenda step, supporting activity, and even specific questions. Always start with the end in mind.

The final three behaviors:

  • “The Purpose is to . . . So That . . . “
 (ie, amazing tool to extract the “strategy” behind something too small for a 
“strategic plan”). The professional facilitators’ ‘screwdriver’, known simply as the Purpose Tool. Use it over and over again to first build consensus around WHY something exists before discussing WHAT can be done to make it better.
  • Trivium
 (ie, the natural force behind the structure of movement and progress). Plato called it Logic, Rhetoric, and Grammar. Our sixth grade teachers called it WHY, WHAT, and HOW.  Project life-cycles call it Planning, Analysis, and Design. We call it Will, Wisdom, and Activity. The Trivium represents the nature of structured facilitation as superb facilitators help groups transform from the abstract to the concrete.
  • Website resources(ie,” You get to ride all the rides, as many times as you want.”). You will find many of the finest facilitators in the world among the thousands of MGRUSH alumni. Therefore, use on-line access to agendas, templates, and other meeting support tools to make your life easier.


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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