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The primary responsibility of a facilitator is to protect the participants. Secondarily, the facilitator helps drive the group toward its desired deliverable. Since the deliverable is built to serve the participants, the people take priority over the issues.

To some extent, both people and issues are managed by creating an environment that is conducive to productivity. Easier said, than done, building a participatory environment.

Additionally the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) encourages you to

“Demonstrate effective participatory and interpersonal communication skills . . .

  • Apply a variety of participatory processes
    Group participation

    How to Create and Sustain a Participatory Environment

  • Demonstrate effective verbal communication skills
  • Develop rapport with participants
  • Practice active listening
  • Demonstrate ability to observe and provide feedback to participants”

The Zen of a Participatory Environment

The “zen” of the experience warns us that participants will respond to stimuli differently. Psychologist Howard Gardner identified eight distinct types of intelligence.  He claims that all humans have the spark of genius buried within, but they manifest differently among us. The eight types include:

  1. Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence (“Body Smart”)
  2. Interpersonal Intelligence (“People Smart”)
  3. Intra-personal Intelligence (“Self Smart”)
  4. Linguistic Intelligence (“Word Smart”)
  5. Logical-Mathematical Intelligence (“Number/ Reasoning Smart”)
  6. Musical Intelligence (“Musical Smart”)
  7. Naturalist Intelligence (“Nature Smart”)
  8. Spatial Intelligence (“Picture Smart”)

Tools for a Participatory Environment

You can begin to appreciate the value of applying a variety of participatory tools to solicit input from your participants. Clearly and factually, not all of them will respond effectively to a strictly “verbal” environment. Thus it is critically important to interview your participants in advance. How else will you understand them and the method that may best serve them? As we say at MG RUSH, there is no “silver bullet” to be an effective facilitator. If you don’t show up prepared, your performance will likely be sub optimal.

Once we understand our participants better, and can improve the selection of tools that we choose to use in our meetings and workshops, effective facilitation relies heavily on active listening.  When conflict develops, people frequently do not listen to the other person or side of the story. The facilitator’s role becomes indispensable to provide reflection on what is being said, because more participants will listen to the facilitator. Don’t forget to confirm however, that you got it right.

Or write, as in, capture the reflection in writing. If you capture the participants’ primary thoughts (frequently referred to as a causal link as in “I think that . . .”) in writing, such as a large Post-It® on an easel, it becomes easier to have them reflect on what was written down or captured. Your participants can then confirm the accuracy or offer up corrections or additions as appropriate.

When providing feedback and reflection, scan the room and observe reactions, typically non-verbal. Determine if it appears that the group understands and perhaps agrees, or if there is resistance —perhaps due to misinterpretation or misunderstanding that you can help clear up through active listening.


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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