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The Gentle Art of Facilitation


by Gareth Jones,

Business Analysis (BAPL) Consultant


Having been a BA for well over 10 years now, and having facilitated session in various situations, I feel that one of my strengths is facilitation. Whether this be workshops, training sessions, interviews, ‘negotiations’, I feel accomplished in most if not all of these facets. As so, on a recent need to facilitate a large group I approached it in my usual way expecting the usual result…Enter complacency.


On this particular occasion, I had in the room a number of brilliant people. Brilliant not just in the sense of personality but most definitely in capability. At the same time, I had a number of people in the room that were fresh to business analysis and as so, in the very early part of their learning journey.


My room was prepped. The materials were out. Everything was going according to plan. And so, after getting to know some of the early participants as they entered, I thought it best to get my presentation up and ready prior to the scheduled doors open. Enter problem number one, the projector was broken. I quickly asked facilities for assistance to which they informed me that they are aware of the problem and have left a spare projector under the table. Problem #2 – the backup projector was also broken. As I fluffed around trying to get this to work to no avail and was informed that the main projector would be broken for the first half of the day, I decided to push on minus the projection as I had printed copies the material for all participants (always have a backup!). This was not ideal but was sufficient enough to enable me to commence and for them to follow. However, we had lost some time already, and this was a slower process to follow.


The discussions were broad in view and varied in depth. I love to let discussions continue as this is where the interesting perspectives come from, and it also distracted the participants from some of the technical difficulties. Just after lunch the technical difficulties were finally resolved and we continued the day all be it a little behind. I was conscious of this but had 3 other days to catch up. I adjusted lunch time lengths slightly to cater for this.

 Day 2: More great discussions, more strong personalities, exercises that enabled team members to collaborate (yay), but the time lost on day 1 was creeping in to day 2. The agenda was out so I had to rearrange the exercises so larger exercises were not being started at the end of the day.


Day 3: I knew I was in a bit of trouble. However, we were also at the most important part of the session, so I couldn’t ‘rush’ through any of this. We finished the day 3 a number of key components behind and with one day to go (this was going to be tight, yikes!).


Day 4: Make or break. I had never been this behind. I had to adapt, and I needed a plan. We had agreed on day 3 to start earlier and finish slightly later if needs be (though some participants needed to leave at the previously specified time).


I got in very early to ensure the room had been re-set to reduce and lag time between exercise suggestion and commencement. All materials were in front of the participants, we had sweets (the important part of course) water etc. I had set a new agenda and communicated this out to the group at the start of the day. It included topics, exercises and then scheduled breaks. I allocated specific question time for the group to ensure questions were not being asked about information yet to be covered. Session by session we moved back on track. The group was more focused, more engaged, and got more out of the day. We made it!


Why am I sharing this? Facilitation is not a set and forget activity. And through everyday activity and a little complacency, I was reminded of this. So, as the last point below will attest, I wanted to learn from it and by sharing, maybe help someone avoid this situation. For me facilitation comes down to 6 main points. The T’s and C’s if you will.


Time Management vs outcomes: This is where facilitation can difficult. If you have a multitude of things to cover in your agenda, and a constrained amount of time you can ensure you meet all the items, but it may come at the cost of the quality of the session. Facilitation is about enabling and guiding a discussion, not lecturing or dictating. Don’t overload your agenda!


Communication: Communicating at the start of each session what needs to be covered, why we are covering it, and what we are then to do once it is finished. I.E. this morning we will focus on Customer Journey Mapping after which time we will break for morning tea.  Ensuring the participants know what needs to be covered, the time allocated to doing so, and the benefit for staying focused works brilliantly.


Control: Control is much like the accelerator pedal. You like to maintain a constant gentle approach, but sometimes it is safer to back off whilst other times it is necessary to power through. Control is very much linked to Time Management vs Outcomes. If you are not going to meet your agenda and must cover those items, you will need to implement stronger control measures. In my case it was more strict timeboxed activities, halting questions until allocated times, and achieving outcomes before scheduled breaks. If I ran the entire session this way, we would have finished early, the participants would have had low satisfaction, and the outcomes of learning would not have been achieved. If I had adjusted my control measures early, but with less severity, we would have maintained a constant pace throughout.


Confidence: Confidence in facilitation is key. If you are uncomfortable with leading groups and presenting, facilitating discussions will always be difficult. You build confidence through practice and preparation. Preparation eases the mind and gives you a plan, practice makes perfect. So always nominate for opportunities to stand-up in front of groups. The reward outweighs the nerves – back yourself!


Continuous Improvement: Always take the time to reflect, adjust and improve. There will  be times where something hits you out of left field, but learning from those times so you can react better the next time, is where the value lies in it for the facilitator.

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