The success of team events or sessions can be more predictable when facilitators gather information from invited participants and stakeholders before planning the agenda, activities, and presentations. Knowing more about the current issues and expectations can greatly enhance your chances of ensuring the team faces what they need to focus on and deal with that in a constructive way.
The source I am sharing, is a list of pre-session interview questions which could help you get a good foundation about the team: what is working, what could be better and how each of the interviewees sees the situations faced by the team.
Some important notes about pre-session interviews:
If the team members do not know you (the facilitator) yet, be sure to introduce yourself to each interviewee and mention your role in the upcoming planned session. They may have additional questions about your background and experience in this area and why you are working on the planned session. Be prepared to summarize these points before you get into the interview.
Make sure you can explain to what degree the responses will be confidential. You would typically want to share a summary of responses with the session attendees to help set the scene on the day and perhaps use that to initiate a discussion or lead into an activity to address something that was mentioned by several participants during the interview. Will you be word-smithing the responses to protect the identity of interviewees? Or will you share the raw data? You need to be transparent about that.
Why are you asking? Be sure to explain how the answers and responses will be used to plan the session and help the team move forward and past any obstacles that may be holding them back.
Let them know upfront that their questions about the session will be answered during their time with you (the interview).
Planning your approach
Will you interview individuals or groups of individuals that work in a specific department or functional group? Think this through carefully with regards to the advantages and disadvantages of this choice before you make that decision. I usually recommend that the number of session participants is no more than about 20 – 25 people and I prefer to know each individual’s responses before I finalize my planning for the session. This means I interview each person separately. But I can also imagine that the team/project culture and approach could make it useful to interview small sub-groups within the team.
In person or online? I prefer to do the interviews in person to allow me the opportunity to ask follow-up questions on the spot. Sitting with someone and talking through the questions gives you the opportunity to also watch their reactions or pauses after each question. This can indicate whether some topics may be sensitive to the interviewee and again you could choose to ask more questions to better understand the issues at hand.
The right number of questions. It is important that the interviews do not become exhausting. Accept that you will not be able to ask every single question that you may have for the planned participants before the session. Some questions are best worked out by the group at the session. Be very selective and critical – ask only questions which will help you prepare for the session. The interviews are not intended to replace the planned group/team session.
The questions in the (download available above) resource range from understanding expectations to identifying possible issues that the team needs to address. It includes some questions which may help with understanding possible issues that could pose an obstacle to team success. Some of the questions are also specifically there to help team session participants envisage themselves being a positive contributor to the success of the session.
I do not suggest that all of the questions would be relevant to every session that you would plan, as the facilitator. Instead, I suggest that you use the ones that make the most sense for the session you are working on and feel free to add additional questions as needed in order to improve your understanding in the relevant areas that the session needs to cover.
Finally, it is important to realize that just the fact that you are asking questions and providing interviewees an opportunity to discuss their thoughts and impressions is in itself already a change management intervention. You are setting the scene for the session and helping to shape participation before the session. This could greatly enhance group dynamics and ensure the success of the planned session.
Being asked to facilitate a group of people to accomplish structured outcomes to a meeting or all-day session can be daunting if it is your first time.. This is especially true when there are strong opposing views within the group. I used to facilitate many sessions for a large global company and worked with a few colleagues who did similar work in other regions. The resource I am sharing contains tips received from my colleagues when I got started as a facilitator years ago. In turn, I have made it available to other new facilitators that I have encountered over the years. Now you can also benefit from this. (see inserts below)
Some assumptions made for these tips to be relevant:
As facilitator your workshop/session is part of a process. The session includes exercises designed to produce outcomes that would benefit the team. There is at least one (could be more) manager who have a vested interest in a successful outcome and who will also attend your session. These same managers are aware of the team and session process and have provided input to you in terms of their vision and needs from the process. Note: there may be more than one manager if you are facilitating a group process involving members of a client organization too and which may also be attended by the manager from the client organization.
Your role is to facilitate the agreed process and to re-agree next steps should the process somehow not be able to continue as planned or new information/changes trigger you to recognize that a change in timing/agenda should be considered.
TIPS for Facilitators:
How to stimulate participation by session participants?
Ask open-ended questions
Do a poll – where by raising hands people have to vote for one idea vs one or more other ideas
Count to 10 or more before you speak, let them bridge the silence with participation
When there is a question to you or a comment, defer it to the group – how does the group feel about this topic/question/statement?
Ask direct questions to specific participants whom you know (be sure) have experience in an area or on specific subject matters.
Summarize the points raised and ask the group to respond – agree or disagree? Correct or ..?
Divide them into pairs for a short discussion on a topic that pertains to what you just covered. (Gets them active after a period of perhaps monologue or exclusive dialogue.)
When the group seems lethargic consider an unscheduled short break
Do an impromptu energizing exercise (always have two or three of these in your back-pocket to employ when you see the need.
Expect some sluggishness in the period right after lunch for about an hour or so. Ensure your session design contains activities for this period – small groups etc.
Call it – sometimes a group is unresponsive, because everyone is thinking about an elephant in the room – some topic which should be discussed or settled which may not be on the agenda., but it is occupying the minds of everyone. If you know what it is, ask “Is ….. something we should discuss at this time?” if you do not know ask “Is there another issue that we should be covering at this time which may not be a scheduled topic?” [You would need to check in with the manager to ensure he wants to do it right away or later -schedule a specific date and time when he will deal with it. So call a short break if they tell you that something needs to be settled. To determine the”how” with the manager involved.)
These examples are not exhaustive, but they did help me out during those early years of facilitating sessions with groups and teams. I do trust they will do the same for you!
Cultural Differences Could Impact your Session
From a cultural perspective it is important to take note of cultural differences which may impact team and group dynamics during a facilitated session.
These examples could be tricky situations to navigate successfully, if you are not prepared to structure the process, the introduction and plan for the day in a way to ensure all participants see value in the time spent together. In some cases the answer may not be to have a facilitated session, but instead to have a series of meetings involving specific people from the participant groups. .
Some cultures expect the person in the front of the room to be an expert and if the facilitator asked questions of the group, his/her credibility may be at stake – in the mind of such a participant.
Valuing the goals that a sub-group brought to to the session, some cultures would expect that these goals may be more important than the goals set out for the session at the start.
Some cultures prefer to talk about practical examples during the session while others may prefer to talk about concepts. This could especially be apparent if a culture respects the resolution of disagreements privately instead of in a group context.
Physical activity or high-energy participant exercises may be seen as disrespectful or unsuitable behavior for senior level personnel in some cultures.
Asking questions or exploring concepts are not common across all cultures. Some participants from other cultures may find that approach alien and uncomfortable. They would expect the facilitator to simply give them the answers instead of asking the group to come up with the answer.
Use THIS LINK to read more about how to understand some cultural dimensions to consider as you plan to facilitate a meeting where there might be participants from multiple cultures.
Here is an example of how people from a Low Power Distance culture may differ from those coming from a High Power Distance culture in a facilitated or training sessions: