The Electronic Discussion on
Group Facilitation
Process Expertise for Group Effectiveness
Moderator: Sandor P. Schuman



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From the Electronic Discussion on Group Facilitation


Recently I asked the participants of this group for information on

models/methodologies and processes/techniques employed by facilitators.

My purpose for doing this was to expand upon my own lists of approaches

and to incorporate them into the taxonomy of facilitation which I have

developed as part of my training of facilitators.  I developed this

taxonomy as a way of organizing the many diverse approaches, methods,

and processes employed by facilitators.  Because I have yet to find a "one

size fits all" definition for facilitation, I also use the taxonomy as a

way of defining this extensive and varied profession.


I decided to give a description on my taxonomy as a prelude to

posting the compilation of responses in order to explain how I will

be using the information and to define what I mean by models/methodologies

and processes/techniques.  The posts come from both this group and the

mailing list: trdev-l.  I have also included some of my own lists. Because

of the length of this material I divided my response into three posts:


A Taxonomy of Facilitation (this post)

Facilitation Methods

Processes and Techniques


Please note that this taxonomy is my own creation and does not necessarily

represent how others might describe or organize the field.  If you would

like to use it in your own training, please give credit to Mary Margaret

Palmer of Facilitation Technologies.  Comments of course are always

welcomed.  Email may be sent to  Thanks. MM


A Taxonomy of Facilitation Practices and Terminology


The Taxonomy divides facilitation practices and terminology into five



- Applications

- Methodologies and models

- Processes and techniques

- Facilitation tools--exercises, simulations, diagnostics

- Materials, equipment, and supplies


It provides a framework in which all of it--the applications, methods,

tools, and processes--can fit.


Please note that this taxonomy was developed by Facilitation Technologies

and does not necessarily represent how others might describe or organize

the field.  The terminology employed for the various categories certainly

does not fit with how everyone uses those terms.  That is, what is called

a process here, another might call a tool.  Whatever terminology is used,

the basic organizational structure of the taxonomy offers a valid and

logical way of addressing at least the process side (the what and the how)

of this profession.




The application is the purpose of the meeting or workshop.  Facilitated

meetings and workshops are held for a variety of reasons including


- Basic meeting facilitation

- Problem solving

- Project planning

- System design

- Process improvement

- Team building

- Action planning

- Strategic planning

- Business restructuring, redesigning, reengineering, and transitioning

- Conflict resolution

- TQM (Total Quality Management), CQI (Continuous Quality Improvement)

- Organizational development

- Community building


Once the application is known it is up to the facilitator to determine

which methodologies, models, processes, techniques, and tools to employ

during the workshop or meeting.  Sometimes the workshop's purpose includes

several applications.  For example, action planning is often included with

strategic planning and process improvement is incorporated into system

design workshops  and quality team work.



Facilitation Methods)


Once the application is known, the facilitator can begin designing the

workshop.  In the case of some applications the best approach is to employ

a methodology or model designed specifically for the application.  For

example, if strategic planning is the reason for the workshop, the

facilitator might pick a strategic planning (SP) model or methodology

from which to start the design of the workshop. There are literally

hundreds of SP models available to facilitators either through trainings

or books. If the application is system design, a JAD (Joint Application

Development) approach will probably be employed.   Three of the most

commonly used JAD models are the classic IBM JAD, The METHOD, and FAST.

 Facilitators involved in community building frequently turn to Future

or Search Conferencing or Open Space Technology.  Models provide

facilitators with a basic structure or framework upon which to design

the workshop.  Many models also spell out the processes and exercises

that should be employed by the facilitator.  Most facilitators after

they have reached a certain level of expertise, begin to build their

own models.


A word of caution:  Many facilitators tend to get locked into one model.

The problem with this is that one model does not fit all circumstances.

In fact each workshop brings with it, its own unique characteristics.

Look for models or methodologies that can be easily adapted and adjusted

to produce the desired outcome of the workshop.



Tools and Processes


At the heart or core of all facilitation practices lies the processes and

techniques.  A process or technique is the approach used by a facilitator

to help participants achieve one or more goals of a workshop or meeting

such as the sharing of information, generating and organizing ideas, or

making decisions.  Several different processes are usually employed during

the course of a single workshop. Where models or methodologies provide a

framework, processes and techniques are used to fill in that framework.


While many processes can be used to achieve the same end, successful

facilitators intuitively know what process or technique to employ in any

given situation. Factors that influence the selection of a process or

technique include: the desired end result, group size, the meeting room,

time constraints, personalities of participants, their level of expertise,

documentation requirements, and the facilitator's intuition.  Some of the

more commonly used processes and techniques are


- Role playing

- Brainstorming or idea generation

- Mind mapping

- Scenario building

- Affinity diagraming

- Round robin or talking stick

- Dialogue process

- Strawman model

- Process block diagram

- Graphic visioning

- Force field analysis

- Criteria matrix

- Ranking or voting with dots


Facilitation Tools--Exercises, Simulations, Diagnostics


Facilitation tools are the gimmicks, instruments, exercises, and tricks

which facilitators employ to stimulate activity, illustrate a point,

provide feedback, perform analysis, keep the participants on track and

focused, and handle the unexpected.  An experienced facilitator will have

literally hundreds of tools in his/her toolkit .  Types of facilitation

tools include:


- Ice breakers, energizers, and closers

- Experiential learning exercises for team building, goal setting,

  communication, problem solving, paradigm shifts, decision making,

  diversity issues, etc.

- Metaphors

- Drawings/pictures

- Ground rules and agendas

- Assumptions/constraints/issues

- Parking lot

- Simulations

- Diagnostics

- Toys, cartoons, jokes



Materials, Equipment, and Supplies


Lists (not complete, never complete) of materials and equipment used by

facilitators is given below.  These lists are actually checklists that

can be used before a meeting or workshop by the facilitator to make sure

he/she has everything they are going to need.  Obviously, you do not need

to have everything listed, but those items with an asterisk are considered

essential supplies.


Materials List


______  Name tents or name tags*

______  Sign-in sheets*

______  Workshop evaluation forms*

______  Copies of the agenda*

______  Forms for participant input

______  Transparencies

______  Reference documents and other handouts

______  Facilitator notes*

______  Equipment for experiential exercises (balls, puzzles)

______  Training/diagnostic booklets


Equipment List


______  Overhead projector*

______  Projection screen*

______  PC/Laptop for documenter with appropriate software and a printer

______  Copier or access to a copier

______  Phone and FAX message service

______  Minimum of 2 flip chart easels (4 for any major workshop)*

______  LCD projection panel

______  Slide projector

______  Coffee maker or coffee service

______  Extension cords

______  Paper cutter

______  3-hole punch

______  Tape player


Supplies List


______  Notepads*

______  Pencils/pens for participants*

______  Post-its*

______  Cut paper for adhesive board

______  Scissors

______  3X5 and 5X8 file cards

______  Paper clips

______  Thumb tacks

______  Minimum of four sets of flip chart markers* (Mr. Sketch)

______  White board markers and erasers*

______  Spray water bottle if water soluble markers are used on white board

______  Transparency pens

______  Flipchart pads (2 per easel)*

______  Box of blank transparencies

______  Xerox paper if you have a copier/printer

______  Kleenex*

______  Butcher paper rolls sprayed with adhesive

______  Masking tape*

______  Stapler and staples and staple remover*

______  Rubber bands*

______  Aspirin, Nuprin, Tums, etc.

______  File folders

______  Colored dots

______  Q-tips

______  Kitchen timer

______  Calendar

______  Static sheets

______  Magnetics

______  Poster board

______  Magazines

______  Flashlight

______  Small tool and sewing kits

______  Toys, games, cartoons, music, videos, jokes

______  Stop watch

______  Refreshments

______  Dictionary and/or Thesaurus




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