Whether you’re facilitating an idea generation session, a training workshop, an off-site or a meeting – you need tools and techniques to make the beginning and ending work well.
- Too many such gatherings deliver too little – yet at a high cost, when the hourly rate for all the talent in the room is taken into account.
- Lack of preparation can result in the same people using the same techniques and getting the same output as last time.
- Get started without addressing concerns, or not agreeing ground-rules, and chaos will ensue.
- End on a hurried ’thanks guys, that was really useful’ and people will wonder why they bothered.
Here are my top tips for facilitating beginnings and endings, to help you make the most of the brilliant brains you have in the room
Get set before the beginning
Beginnings are a whole lot better if people know why they’re there and what’s expected. What are the objectives and expectations? What output is needed by the end? How long is the workshop (off-site, idea generation, etc.)? Why are they being invited? What do they need to know, read, watch and prepare before the session? Make it clear in the meeting invite, with all the necessary links and attachments included. OK, there’s bound to be someone who didn’t read the email / meeting invite, but they never do (unless/until they feel caught out).
‘Contract’ to get off to a good start
The first few minutes together are when you set out a verbal contract and seek consensus. Start the actual session with a very brief recap of the expectations and output required. Clarify when you’ll finish and when there’s a break if there is one.
Whether you’re facilitating a team off-site or an idea generation / brainstorm session, you need some ground-rules. Even if it’s the 20th time everyone’s heard them, ground-rules need to be restated and committed to. Group composition can change, new people won’t know the DOs & DON’Ts off by heart and default behaviour can quickly kick in. Keep to the essentials such as ‘no hogging the mic’, ‘no interruptions’ or ‘no idea too wacky’ and ‘no phones / laptops’.
Rather than eliciting the obvious ground-rules from the group, as facilitator you can write up 4 or 5 suggestions and ask for any that people think are missing. Be ready with suggestions for dealing with transgressions, and again check that everyone agrees. Yellow and red cards? (seriously, they can be very effective) Forfeit? Penalty points? There’s no point having ground rules if anyone can break them and get away with it – tolerate them and your facilitator role may be challenged.
The group is forming, which means the facilitator needs to guide it safely and clearly through this early stage. Later stages will need everyone’s contribution and take more time. As the group develops, you’ll need to be less directive and more hands-off.
Close clearly and well
Too many meetings can end with each attendee taking away a different version of next steps and who’s meant to be doing what. ‘Oh. I thought you were doing that…’ Idea generation sessions can end with lots of possibilities but no clear idea of what’s going to happen to all that output. ‘So what happened to all those ideas then?’
When drawing the session to a close, a skilled facilitator allows everyone to comment on both the content or output (the ‘what’), and the process of getting there (the ‘how’). By now, the group should have matured enough to give each other fair hearing. Techniques you can use include:
- Giving each person 10, 20 or 30 seconds (have a timer, and a play microphone can be good) to sum up what they’re taking away
- A Post-It flurry of Big Takeaways (only if you’ve not yet used the sticky things)
- A team Mind Map of insights and/or what’s next
If you’re wondering what to do between the beginning and ending, take a look at these posts: