Facilitation 2-part series: Part 1 of 2

Top 10 Things You Can Do To Be A Kick-A** Facilitator

Cat herder. Lion tamer. Boxing referee.
Is that what comes to mind when you see yourself wearing a facilitator’s hat?

Facilitation (the act of making a process easier) is not easy. Kick-A** Facilitators must wrangle competing motivations and points of view as they work to focus a disparate group of people on a common goal. Think Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon, or the 33rd Chilean miner to surface after being trapped 69 days underground. Both efforts took huge teams of people focused on a single outcome: bringing humans home alive and well. Your workshop may not need to yield such dramatic results, but the approach to solving your group’s problem is no different.

This article is the first of two on the 10 things great facilitators do to keep the cats focused on the mouse, the lions in their cages, and the fighters from punching below the belt. In this installment, we’ll share tips on preparation, starting strong, figuring out the best techniques to get your group to make decisions, and tackling the range of characters you have in the room… or on the screen.


Before you even step into the room—physical or virtual— get your ducks in a row.

You have the right people, the right amount of time, and the right “space”.

  • The right people will create a holistic view of the problem and the solution. Make sure the user is represented as well as the maker. Include the key decision maker(s).
  • Keep the time tight (but not too tight). And be sure to build in breaks for bodies and brains.
  • Environment impacts engagement. In physical meeting spaces this means enough space to post ideas, solutions, and “parking lots”. Having the right furniture is key too, as are the tools to support unlimited thinking i.e., scented markers, toys, and yarn.
  • For virtual meetings, use a video conferencing app participants are familiar with AND will meet your needs. If the tool is new to most participants, allow plenty of time for them to download, log in, and use the app. Consider a trial run with all the users.

Everyone understands and agrees on the workshop purpose.

  • If your group is fuzzy on the meeting’s purpose or not aligned on the desired outcomes and deliverables, you will have solved an entirely different problem than originally intended.

Everyone comes prepared.

  • You are working with busy people; enlist leaders, assistants, and workshop champions to urge everyone to complete pre-meeting work. Use bribery if needed!

Great! You and your audience are prepared. Now what?


  • Set the tone in the first 5 minutes through your opening statements and energy level, the physical room set up, use of music, etc.
  • Read the energy level in the room and then raise your own slightly above the group’s. Any more than that and you may be perceived as annoying.
  • Script your opening and stick with a routine. Thought Logic consultants frequently use this tried-and-true formula:

  • Agree on the ground rules that will keep the group focused and working toward the session objective. These are different from decision rules, which we address further in this article. Ground rules can include things like keep laptops closed, step out of the room if something else requires focus, keep cameras on for a virtual meeting, start and end on time. A top-notch facilitator will always solicit the group’s permission to override a ground rule.
  • Share housekeeping information up front so participants can focus on what’s truly important and feel cared for: break and meal schedules, bathroom locations, emergency exits, etc.
  • Meeting virtually? Consider posting introductions in the chat to save time; ask everyone to start the meeting by posting a GIF for how they are feeling; designate someone (not you!) for participants to contact if they are experiencing technical issues.
  • Remember your role. You are an objective guide, not a participant.
  • Last but not least – start on time. This is your first test of credibility as a facilitator.


Participants need to understand three things – what needs to be decided, who has the authority to make those decisions, and what the process will be if there are multiple authorities. Depending on the group’s style, company culture and/or the decisions that need to be made, you might use more than one technique for managing decisions, including:

  • Authority
  • Range
  • Consensus or Modified Consensus
  • Majority or Unanimity

While a group is making a decision, make sure everyone is actively engaged in the vote. Don’t assume that silence is the same as agreement. If someone is silent on the issue, ask them (in a non-confrontational manner) to share their thoughts.


Empathy and tact

These are two key components Kick-A** use to deftly manage a group. Each participant comes with their own perspective and experience and, as a facilitator, your job is to create an atmosphere in which everyone is engaged and contributing. Using empathy, you can help participants feel heard. Tact will help you balance the power dynamics in the room.

Remember to manage at the task level instead of at the interpersonal level. This approach can cool emotions and maintain focus on the agreed-upon task.

Shy vs overly-engaged participants

Communication and engagement styles vary from silent to non-stop contribution and commentary. Draw out the shy or thoughtful ones through small group work or asking a ‘safe’ question once the more vocal participants have initially debated the topic.

At the opposite end of your group lie the lions—full of roar. This can intimidate the quieter or more junior participants, especially if the lion is a senior leader. Put your noisy contributor to work by asking them to take minutes, keep time or record notes on a flip chart. They may still voice their opinion but not monopolize the discussion.

A little friction is good.

The best decisions, like a smoothly turned wooden bowl, are usually the result of a little friction. But not every interpersonal difference can, or should, be resolved. If your group has reached a tense impasse, try:

  • Breaking up the work into smaller groups.
  • Taking a 15-minute break.
  • Shifting perspectives. What does this problem look like from the user’s perspective? Or from the operations point of view?
  • Changing the scenery. If you are in a traditional room, go to an outdoor location for the next exercise. For virtual meetings, ask people to change their backgrounds to a picture of their favorite vacation place.

Still have a tough cat? Try to understand their stance with some clarifying questions. Find where you can gain agreement and build from there. You may also try speaking with them in private to help them understand how their behavior is affecting the group.


Kick-A** facilitators are a study in contrasts: empathetic, objective, powerful, subtle, focused while keeping the big picture in mind. The outcomes of their workshops are a study in success: engaged participants arriving at an agreed-upon conclusion with a clear vision of next steps and responsibilities.

In our next article, we’ll share tips on the when and how of technology, making the clock work FOR you, and using powerful images to prompt dialogue and create anchors.

Matt Kristek, Principal Consultant, Thought Logic Consulting. Matt Kristek is a Principal Consultant in Thought Logic’s Business Operations & Transformation practice. He has 10 years of experience as a management consultant helping clients succeed across various industries, including energy, healthcare, media and entertainment, retail, public health, automotive, and staffing agencies.

Rebecca Weaver, Managing Consultant, Thought Logic Consulting. Rebecca has over 20 years of experience as a problem solver, change leader, and strategist supporting transformational initiatives and teams undergoing rapid and complex change. Whether ensuring enterprise readiness, driving communications, or improving organizational effectiveness she considers it her primary objective to make other people good at what they do.

Ellen Winsor, Principal Consultant, Thought Logic Consulting. Passionate about engaging storytelling, Ellen Winsor is a Principal Consultant in the People & Change practice with Thought Logic.