How to Design a Facilitated Work Session

I’ve just finished a call with a client who commissioned me to facilitate a strategy session for their leadership team. In walking her through my design I realised again the importance of creating a generative container for people to do their best work. As such, the facilitator takes care of the structure, while the group takes care of the content.

This article highlights three design elements that help me each time when I design and later hold the structure of a facilitated work session. A work session can be anything from a status meeting, Manco, retrospective, planning event, team building…I’m sure that you can fill in the rest.

The first one is…

Creating relationship

Creating relationship is about the ties that bind – the constructs that hold a group together. So spending enough time at the start of a work session establishing this before diving into the “work” part of the session is time well spent. 

Consider the following things to help you hold the group:

  • The emotional stuff – e.g. how is the group going to be together in the session?
  • The physical stuff – e.g. is the room set up conducive to people doing great work together?
  • The cognitive stuff – e.g. how am I, as the facilitator, going to ensure the engagement of the people?

The second is…

Ensuring diversity

Great results come from groups that embrace how different people see the world, how each one processes information, and consider any cultural norms. This is the difference that makes the difference that provides the potential for new ideas to emerge.

Consider the following things to keep the session moving towards its desired outcome:

  • The emotional stuff – e.g. how can participants accommodate the differences between them, such as organisational levels, that separate them?
  • The physical stuff – e.g. – how can everyone’s voice be heard equally, even the soft ones?
  • The cognitive stuff – e.g. how do I keep people engaged throughout?

…and the third one is…

Encouraging open discussion

Relationships cannot grow without communication and collaboration, so how participants connect and share information is important. This can be any flow that creates some change (and exchange), such as feedback, dialogue, and conversation.

Consider the following things to keep the flow of information untethered:

  • The emotional stuff – e.g. are participants listening to each other or talking over each other?
  • The physical stuff e.g. what are the rules that inform discussion and help participants collaborate?
  • The cognitive stuff – e.g. do participants have the time and space to think before engaging? 

Becoming masterful at facilitating means combining the art and the science. What I’ve mentioned above talks to both. The science is the actual tools, techniques, and exercises. The art is what the facilitator brings to enliven the tools and techniques that help a group move towards their desired state.

Originally published on LinkedIn on 8 February 2020.