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The role of session leader (aka facilitator) is frequently filled by the same person who also provides the role of methodologist. Since there is usually more than one right answer (or methodology, that leads to the deliverable), how do you determine the optimal approach?

As you may know from your FAST training, a robust decision-making method suggests creating your options and then to separately evaluate them against a set of prioritized criteria; including SMART criteria, fuzzy criteria, and other important considerations.

Additionally the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) encourages you to “select clear methods and processes that

  • Foster open participation with respect for client culture, norms and participant

    how to plan appropriate group processes


  • Engage the participation of those with varied learning / thinking styles
  • Achieve a high quality product / outcome that meets the client needs”

Foster open participation

You can support the plurality concept of the IAF’s first point by carefully selecting and blending your meeting participants.  Keep in mind the type of change effort you are leading. If your deliverable contributes evolutionary advances to the project cause, you may want to get done quickly, with people who know each other and work together effectively. If your deliverable contributes toward revolutionary advances, then invigorate your blend of meeting or workshop participants. Remember, if you want the same old answer, then clone yourself. If you need something truly innovative, then invite people who may be viewed as outsiders or confederates, and depend on them to help stir things up. We know empirically that more options typically yields higher quality decisions.

Engage participation

Support their engagement and participation (second bullet above) with the frequent and extended use of break out teams and sessions. Groups get more done as their sizes are reduced. Break out teams give quiet people permission to speak freely. Provide creative team names (eg, stellar constellations or mountain names) and appoint a CEO for each team (ie, chief easel operator). Be well prepared with your supplies and handouts.


Manage teams closely by wandering around and listening. Keep the teams focused on the question(s) as you would with a larger group, preventing scope creep that yields unproductive time. When you pull the teams back together, use FAST’s Book-end tool to aggregate and collapse the perspectives into one, unified response.

Next the International Association of Facilitators encourages you to “prepare time and space to support group process

  • Arrange physical space to support the purpose of the meeting
  • Plan effective use of time
  • Provide effective atmosphere and drama for sessions”

When confined to one room, typically arrange easels in different corners. With virtual meetings, convert local call-in centers (eg, a group conferencing in from another city) into discrete sub teams. If possible, plan on separate rooms for break-out sessions, pre supplied with easels, markers, handouts, etc.

Minimize the allotted time. It’s shocking what teams can complete in three minutes with clear instructions. Even with a three-minute assignment, by the time you have appointed CEOs, instructions, and participants have assembled and then returned; a three-minute assignment quickly turns into five minutes, five minutes turns into ten, etc.  Again, minimize the allotted time, but be flexible and afford more time if the teams remain productive and need more time that adds value.

The more you do in advance to prepare your instructions and the physical space, the more you can expect back in return.  If you are blasé and assign teams numbers, and randomly assign participants 1,2, 3, etc.—then expect blasé results.  If you are creative and involved, you can expect the same type of behavior from your participants.


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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