Facilitation is a very useful skill to have. It helps not only in coaching but in many day-to-day activities. Whether a team discussion or a team activity, a good facilitator can make all the difference.

Retrospective

A common facilitation technique is a Retrospective. It has a clear objective of looking back, as a group, at a recent time period or a particular incident, collect thoughts around different aspects, and then brainstorm on action items related to the topic. Agile teams use this technique for continuous improvement. I like relating it to the 12th Agile Principle:

"At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly."

While there are some well-known Retrospective formats, I try to customize the experience based on context. This could be how the recent iteration went, the motivation levels of the team, concepts that the team can relate to, or sometimes just something random that could be fun!


Retro
Retro using a Fuel/Mud analogy

Future-spective

A variation of the Retrospective is a Future-spective. As the name suggests, it is not about looking back but about looking forward. Such an exercise helps in goal-setting, expectation-setting, coming up with a common vision, and sometimes an actionable plan. Typically it involves having the group imagine that they are in the future, and then describing what they see has gone well or what has gone wrong.

Mind Mapping

A lesser used technique for facilitation is Mind Mapping. A number of people have discovered it for personal use. I have used it in group situations as well, whether to make my own thoughts visual so that others can follow or to capture thoughts of the group, presenting it back to them in real time. Having thoughts captured visually and linked together, helps explore the topic space even further, and make stronger connections between different ideas. It also helps retention. Mind Mapping can be used effectively for cause-effect analysis or for drilling down a concept into granular levels which are more easily recognizable or actionable. In fact, you could use this technique in a Retrospective to draw out effective action items after points have been put forth.

Fishbowl

Sometimes you may be facilitating a large group, or a group that isn't very vocal, or perhaps a topic that is a bit controversial. In all of these cases, having an effective discussion may be difficult. Here a technique called as Fishbowl can help. It is a constrained form of discussion where there are set rules for participation. At any given point in time, there is a panel with a fixed number of chairs. Out of these chairs, all but one can be filled by people who wish to participate in the discussion. If someone new steps in and sits on the vacant chair, one of the other participants has to volunteer to step out. This encourages multiple viewpoints to be heard, and discourages anyone from overtaking the discussion for long. With groups that are not vocal, having many chairs empty creates an awkward situation, forcing a few people to self-nominate themselves for the panel discussion. Seeing a few people start off, others feel encouraged to join in.


There are even more facilitation techniques that one can employ, for example, 5 whys or fist of five. It is good to have them in your toolkit especially if you are in a role that could benefit from a collaborative team.

Further Resources

Retrospectives

Mind Mapping

General



blog comments powered by Disqus