Group Facilitation Techniques and Methods
Listed alphabetically below are some of the best group facilitation techniques to help your team achieve their goal. They are useful to aid idea generation, raise energy and help make group decisions.
1. Action planning
Action planning is vital for team success. It is a simple and effective technique for gaining commitment for action. It works by carefully recording each action item, as follows:
- ‘What’ the action point is
- ‘When’ the action is to be scheduled and the estimated completion date
- ‘Who’ is assigned against the action
- Progress against the action (leave blank initially)
To save time, it is often best to leave the assignment of action points to the end of the meeting/event. In summary, here are a few key rules for the effective use of action planning:
- Do not nominate an individual for an action, unless he or she agrees to take it on
- Describe actions in precise, clearly understood terminology and with an agreed deadline for
- The team must agree that each action is worth doing
- Progress must be tracked and reported on at each meeting or agreed interval
In addition, some organisations use a visual method of tracking progress against their action plans. Typically, these use a ‘red’, ‘amber’ and ‘green’, traffic light analogy. In this context, ‘red’ means the action point has not yet started, ‘amber’ means it is in progress and ‘green’ means it has been fully completed.
Brainstorming is an ideal tool for generating a large quantity of ideas within the group. However, for effective brainstorming sessions:
- Ideas should flow freely
- Aim for quantity, not quality of ideas
- Record every idea clearly
- Do not criticise or evaluate ideas in the session
- Consider an independent facilitator to the group
In addition, the facilitator should also encourage the team to come up with several ‘off the wall’ or ‘wacky’ ideas. These can often stimulate the ideal solution.
Energisers are ideal to raise personal energy levels within the group. Use these, where necessary, at appropriate intervals throughout the day, to re-vitalise the group. You can build up your repertoire of energisers by reviewing training manuals, sharing ideas with colleagues and thinking up your own.
The key principles of using energisers are:
- They should be fun and uplifting
- Make them short e.g. five minutes
- Conduct them with sufficient space
- To be mindful of any potential health and safety hazards e.g. no chairs or equipment in the way
- They are not physically too demanding and that everyone in the group will be able to participate
Using a flip-chart during a team meeting can provide a creative, yet structured, working environment and bring focus to the group. Here are a few tips for effective flip-chart use:
- Place the flip-chart at the front of the group
- Ensure you have plenty of flip-chart paper to hand
- Stand to the side of the flip-chart to ensure everyone can see
- Whilst standing to one side, practice writing on flip-chart. If you are right handed you may find standing to the left (facing the flip-chart) of the flip-chart easier
- Write headings, where appropriate, onto the flip-chart to focus the group on the issue or question
- Use clear, bold, large font – (‘capitals only’ helps some facilitators), to ensure the participants can read easily
- Utilise different colours and bullet points when writing on the flip-chart. However, remember that ‘red’ and ‘green’ are not helpful for group members who are colour blind.
5. Go wild:
The ‘Go Wild’ facilitation method involves writing down 20 ideas beginning with the phrase ‘wouldn’t it be good if…’
As a result, the group is encouraged to come up with better and more imaginative solutions. To begin with, the statements might be obvious and predictable, but will become increasingly creative and ‘wild’ as you go on.
6. Ground rules
First, the facilitator or meeting leader should get the group to establish some ‘ground rules’ or a ‘team code’ for group working. Do this at an early stage of the group coming together.
In addition, key principles for setting these ground rules are that they:
- Establish an acceptable code of behaviour
- Provide a frame of reference for group members to challenge constructively
- Help the group gain agreement of what is important
- Are specific enough to be practical
- Do not stifle the groups’ creativity
- Remain within the team
So how do you go about setting these group working rules? We suggest:
- Getting the group and recording feedback on the flip-chart
- Asking each individual in the group to summarise their own thoughts on post-it notes, then place them on the board
- If time is short, or it’s a single day event, we suggest having some visuals with key words on that represent ‘ground rules’ or an appropriate ‘team code of behaviour’ for the day
7. Group review
Getting the group to review what they have learnt and gained out of the meeting will help facilitate higher performance. This only takes five to ten minutes. Start by asking three simple questions:
- What did we do that worked well?
- Did anything not work well?
- Should we do anything differently next time?
8. Ice breakers
Ice Breakers are ideal to get people interacting early on in the meeting and are particularly helpful for new groups coming together. In addition, they help take the group members mind off the meeting content, whilst concentrating on working with each other in a light-hearted way. Furthermore, the icebreaker activity will make each group member feel included, and provide a bridge into the meeting itself.
The guiding principles of selecting an icebreaker are that they should be:
- Fun and engaging for the participants
- Short and simple
- Bring relevance to the subject matter of the meeting or training
Meta-planning is a simple technique that encourages individuals to express their thoughts on the issue under discussion. In summary, it involves writing key words onto Post-it notes and then collectively placing and arranging them into sub-groups on a flip-chart or wall space.
Ask individuals to quietly write one idea per Post-It note and then place the notes onto a board, sheet of flip-chart paper or similar. When all the notes are on the board, you (or one or two members of the group) can then collate similar ideas together and add a sub heading.
As a result, this approach helps to incorporate everyone’s ideas and contributions in the shortest amount of time. It also enables the group to come to some quick conclusions.
This technique allows groups to use Brainstorming to generate a long list of ideas. Following this, it is important to narrow down these ideas into a manageable size, for realistic consideration. A selection process involving the whole group then picks the best ideas, to save time.
Here is a summary of the process:
- Once the Brainstorming has been completed, the group reviews the list to clarify and merge similar ideas/options
- Then conduct voting through a show of hands for each option. Alternatively, allow the group to go to the list and mark their choices or use a sticky dot for each viable option. Participants can vote for any number of options.
- The facilitator then counts the votes
- Votes from half of the group, or more, warrant further discussion and debate
- The facilitator will circle or make a mark against each item now worthy of further consideration
- A further vote then takes place based on the reduced list of options, although participants can only vote for half of the remaining options on the list
- Two more rounds of voting are then used to further halve the size of the list
- Typically groups need to have three to five options for further analysis
- Following this, the group then discusses the pros and cons of the remaining options
- Then debate the pros and cons of each remaining option within the group
- Finally, the group then makes a choice of the best option or identifies the top priorities for further analysis and debate
Ranking is a decision-making technique that helps the group select the most appropriate and relevant idea. Firstly, you can use brainstorming to generate the quantity of ideas you are looking for. Then the group must determine a selection criterion to use, to guide their personal decision-making process, against a numerical scale.
For example, each person might apply a one to six rating, where six is their preferred choice. Finally, the scores of each participant are then added together to determine the most appropriate and relevant idea.
12. Reverse brainstorming
If the group is stuck, you could try ‘Reverse Brainstorming’. Essentially, his facilitation method looks at the problem you are trying to resolve from a different angle. In summary, it considers the reverse of the problem you are trying to resolve at the time.
For example, the group might look at ‘how to improve business communication’. The reverse of this is ‘how to make business communication worse’. Then, once you have the negative list, ‘flip’ each idea to turn it into a positive.
As a result, Reverse Brainstorming can produce some thought-provoking ideas on improving issues.
13. Round robin
This simple technique aims to raise participation levels or to help define a problem. Then each person in the group is asked to state their views on the issue under discussion, without being interrupted by anyone else in the group.
As a result, the facilitator is then able to get the group to summarise these ideas and views, before the group moves on.
14. Structured problem solving/decision making
There are many different problem-solving processes available, but essentially, most stages follow this structure:
- Define the problem
- Present the background
- Generate ideas
- Group ideas
- Choose the idea/s
- Check commitment
15. Three star rating
Three star rating is a helpful visual group decision-making technique using coloured stickers (all the same colour and star shaped). Start by giving each participant three stars to award against their preferred option or options. The participant then distributes, or splits the stars as they wish. As a result, you have a visual record of the preferred option.
16. Working in pairs or trios
This is an ideal method of group working, particularly at the earlier stages of a meeting. It helps encourage easy participation and break down any initial barriers. As a result, it is also a good way of helping individuals define the issue the group is working on.
Discussions should last about five to ten minutes before bringing the pairs back together to discuss the issue as one group.
In conclusion, many of the group working techniques above are useful at specific stages of the problem-solving/decision-making process. These tips will help you facilitate the team’s progress in achieving their goal or outcome.
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