Disciplined Agile

Facilitation: Tips for Facilitators

This article offers some general tips as well as ideas for interventions and for facilitating sessions and decision-making using one popular approach: the Brainstorm-Associate-Select method.

General Tips

This table offers some general tips on facilitation. Below this are tips on interventions and essential sentences. 



Ask questions to gain participation.

Ask open-ended questions that invite response, especially “what” and “how” questions. Close-ended questions stifle participation. Use closed-ended questions only when you want to end discussion and move on.

Use transitions.

Learners need to know when one topic has closed and another has begun. Transitions don’t have to be fancy. A statement as simple as “Now that we have discussed A, let’s move on to B” works well.

Control discussions.

Regardless of the participation level, you are still in charge. You can choose to move on when it’s appropriate by saying something like, “OK, one more comment and then we have to move on.” If the discussion becomes repetitive, take control and make a transition to the next subject.

Remain neutral.

If the group gets into a debate about a particular point, clarify and summarize both sides, and then move on. Don’t express your own opinion (unless the debate concerns a factual matter) because the participants who have the opposite opinion may feel put down.

Don’t wing it. 

Winging it carries some very big risks; you might go on time-consuming tangents, you might lead yourself into a discussion that is not appropriate, or you might steal your own thunder for a later subject.


Find something to reinforce and affirm in every comment. You can always affirm a person’s effort at participation. When you treat people with respect, they will feel comfortable participating.

Watch and respond to body language.

Say, “Joe, you look puzzled. Is something not making sense?”

Don’t be afraid of silence.

Sometimes people are simply thinking and need a little time. When you ask a question, mentally count to 10 (slowly!) before asking again or redirecting the question.

Debrief thoroughly.

Plan key questions that you will ask at the end of an activity or exercise to be sure that the participants get all of the important points. Don’t ad lib a debriefing session! Highlight the lessons learned for each activity.

Bring a pocket guide.

Bring a pocket guide for facilitators to help you think about unforeseen challenges.

Use examples and stories: Make them your own.

Prepare examples and war stories from your own experiences that will illustrate content points. Practice your telling of these items so that you are prepared to emphasize the points that are most illustrative. You can even leave out part of it and then tell the rest of the story later, or you can ask the group, “What do you think happened next?”

Healthy learning.

A facilitator encourages group cohesiveness and direction throughout the participation process. The facilitator must manage the group involvement process, ensuring group members are treated as equals, encouraging group discussion, suggesting decision-making and problem-solving alternatives, guiding toward resolution, and promoting development of actions and follow-up plans. As leader, the facilitator must help team members to be sensitive to other members, involve all members, and establish and maintain group norms to help them function more effectively.

Give feedback.

One of the things facilitators do in leading learning situations is to provide feedback on participants’ comments and individual and group activities. Individual comments and group discussions are ideal times to assess if the learners are really getting it. Your response gives them additional content and, at the same time, feedback on their understanding of the subject under discussion. Practice activities are great opportunities to provide balanced feedback.

Manage your space.

Get there early to set up. Always be ready to start on time.

How you set up the front of the room and the rest of the room is a reflection of your style and comfort. If you have flexibility, determine where the front of the room is to accommodate light, conversation, noise, power and connections, etc.

Tools for Intervention

Intervention tries to interrupt negative behavior that is distracting the group. Should you intervene? Ask yourself the following:

  • How serious is the problem? Might it go away by itself?
  • How much disruption will intervening cause?
  • Will intervening work?
  • How will it impact relationships? Meeting flow?
  • What method would be most effective?
  • What will happen if I do nothing?

Here is a helpful four-step process for dealing with problem participants:

  • Use eye contact.
  • Stand next to the person (if feasible).
    • Refer to the norms of the group (ground rules, agreed-upon behaviors).
    • Objectively describe what you see, focusing on behavior rather than personality.
  • Use redirecting wording such as, “I see this is happening,” and “This is what needs to happen.”
  • Try redirecting the behavior. Example, “Please wait until lunch to check email”.

Essential Sentences for Facilitators

Always try to use questions and sentences that invite response and thought from the team 


Think about using sentences such as this…

State what is happening with the group and what needs to happen

I’m noticing that this is happening______, and we need to have this happen_____.

Let me tell you what is happening next.

It looks like____.

We should move on now.

There is a lot of energy here today, and we need to direct it to our goals.

We have only 5 minutes to finish this part, so we need to wrap up.

I see that you have reservations. I’d like you to hold onto them for 15 minutes and then we’ll check back with you.

One of our norms is that only one person talks at a time. I need to redirect us back to that.

Get specific information from someone

Juan, what approach does your group use to ___?

Probe deeper into an issue

Why do you think that happened?

Why hasn’t (a cause of this issue) been identified before?

What problems are caused by this issue?

What makes you say that___?

Include everyone in the discussion

I see you nodding, what would you add?

We are just listening to ideas, we don’t have to agree or disagree.

Sue, you had an idea before, what was it?

Combining those thoughts, I’m going to write____.

Anything else we should add?

What should I write?

 Clarify an issue or idea

What I’ve got is this____. Is it what you wanted to say?

Am I reading you right?

Does that make sense?

It looks like everyone agrees. Am I right?

So what I am hearing is this______. Is that what you had in mind?

Does this capture it?

What words should I use to say that?

What I’m picking up is_____. Am I even close?

Let’s explore that idea a little.

The first thing I heard was___. The second thing was__. Am I on target?

So, is that what you meant?

We need to wrap this up. Is everyone ready?

Facilitating Sessions and Meetings

Facilitating sessions and meetings are one of the primary jobs of the facilitator. This section offers ideas on various mechanics of sessions and meetings. Depending on the scope of the meeting, some of this may not be required.

Session Pre-Planning

Before the session, work with the sponsor of the meeting, the one who is calling the meeting or has expectations for a desired outcome. Cover these items:

  • Session purpose
  • Session objectives and expected deliverables
  • Identified/developed process to be used
  • Session agenda
  • Annotated agenda
  • Logistical stuff
    • People, place and materials
    • Obtain vital facts about the following areas:
      • Purpose, objectives, deliverables
      • People
      • Participant responsibilities, decision authority remote vs. in-person
    • Place
      • Access
      • Security, contacts, emergency requirements
  • Other information pertaining to this session
  • Verify verbally what you heard, as well as who's doing what

After the meeting, provide the sponsor with a written verification.

In your planning, anticipate any challenges within the group. Select facilitation techniques that will handle these situations. Put these techniques in your (private) agenda in case these challenges surface.


The agenda represents the plan for the meeting. It should always be prepared ahead of time and should be developed to meet your needs. It should include the following:

  • Purpose, objectives and deliverables
  • Process to be used to achieve each objective and or deliverable
  • Required preparation (both room and materials, when necessary)
  • Topic
  • Timing
  • Special techniques, forms, and/or appearance of items on the boards

Conducting Sessions and Meetings

During the session, it is the job of the facilitator to maintain the agenda. Starting on time can be difficult but it is important.

You must always—without exception—maintain a positive and professional demeanor; this is a critical part of your focus on process. While it can be tough, seek positive solutions to constructive conflict; try to see the other’s point of view. Your modeling of professional behavior is critical to having a successful program.

Beyond this, model the behavior that you want to see. When explaining concepts, providing feedback, or making application to the job, model those coaching behaviors you are teaching. By so doing, participants can learn by observing and become more convinced that these skills really do work.

Use the facilitation tips. And have a copy of a facilitation pocket guide with you to help you think about unforeseen challenges.

State the Ground Rules

It is a good idea to post the ground rules on the wall. You can refer to it during the meeting as a subtle reminder of the norms of the meeting.

Ask the participants if they have any to add.

Gain agreement on these from the group before starting the session.

Ask participants to help enforce these rules we all have agreed to.

Decision-making With Brainstorm-Associate-Select

Brainstorm-Associate-Select is a set of techniques you will use again and again in your facilitation of learning situations, AARs and retrospectives. They are especially appropriate for helping the team develop solutions to things that did not go well and then to select the “vital few” things that they will try to work on next.


  • Remind participants of the rules of brainstorming
  • Do not critique other people’s ideas
  • Build on other ideas
  • Keep your statements short
  • Everyone talks
  • State the question or issue
  • Facilitator records all ideas
  • Continue until there are no more ideas
  • Read through the list, combining items that are similar
  • Check for clarity and eliminate duplicates


There are several alternatives for clustering, doing associations.

Alternative: Action Matrix

The four quadrant “Action Matrix” is a helpful tool for quickly categorizing ideas.

Do less of...

Do more of...

Stop doing...

Start doing...

With the list of ideas, identify which category each idea belongs to

  • Ask for consensus.
  • In each category, see if there are duplicates to combine.
  • Ask if this helps identify any new ideas.

Alternative: Affinity Grouping

The affinity exercise is a general approach to association. The team looks at all of the ideas and groups them as seems appropriate. It helps them identify patterns and associations in what has been proposed.

  1. Write down ideas, one per piece of paper.
  2. Have the team group the ideas.
  3. Have them write a label for each grouping.
  4. See if there are duplicates and combine as appropriate.
  5. Have the team identify any gaps in what they have or any new ideas that should be added.


If brainstorming went well, there might be many ideas on the board. Usually they cannot all be done, nor should they all be done. It is more important to make progress, to do something, than it is to do everything. There will always be another opportunity to pick more. The key is that they are coming to own their process.

Help the team to pick a “vital few” items to work on, especially those that they can address within their span of control. Help them to consider which ones they think will produce the greatest benefit.

Depending on the number of ideas, selecting which one can be as simple as raising hands or more complex with multi-voting.