Facilitation Tricks of the Trade

There are a lot books out there on facilitation. They all say basically the same thing. They tell you a well planned event is better than one you do off the cuff. This is true. However, the best made facilitation plans have unknown factors that can prevent the plan from being successfully executed. I started facilitating in the early 90’s. I have observed some challenges that not all facilitators consider when facilitating.


All facilitation sessions have a given level of uncertainty. Facilitated sessions are often used to explore options, brainstorm ideas, problem solve, etc. Given the response to such activities can not be predicted, planning a set of facilitiation activities that are intended to feed one into the next becomes quite a challenge.

The unknown is a natural challenge. Now add “man-made” challenges and your probability of success starts to dwindle if you aren’t prepared. Such man-made events include:

  • Meetings extend beyond 1 to 3 hours.
  • Multiple meeting outcomes
  • Complex goals
  • Multiple personal agendas
  • Large groups
  • A leader who does support the facilitation plan


There is no one solution. I recommend performing worse-case, what-if scenarios when designing the facilitation session. Answer these questions:

  • What technique can be used to get the data if the first technique didn’t work out?
  • What technique or tool can you invent to meet the unique situation?
  • How many tools do you know that you can pull out of your back pocket and use on the fly?
  • What supplies will you need in order to use any tool that might prove to be required?


If you are looking for predictable results, shorter meetings with a single focused outcome will yield results that can then be used later in a follow up meeting. The following meeting can use tools that accommodate the outcomes from the previous meeting. No time in between facilitation activities? Then have multiple what-if plans ready to go.

Published by Cindy McCourt

I wear many hats: author, website planner, Drupal consultant, instructional designer, trainer.

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