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



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Faciliation Tools and Processes

From the Electronic Discussion on Group Facilitation

Compiled by Mary Margaret Palmer


ToP Focused Conversation


(to give it it's full title) -

Spencer (1989)  Purpose is to:

- provide the questioner with a framework which is based on Kolb's

  experiential learning model

- enable participants to reflect on an event or commonly shared

  experience and to interpret the experience and decide what to do

  as a result.


The facilitator leads the group by preparing, then asking questions to

which the group respond.


There are four stages (which we in Perth, Western Australia, have

abbreviated to SAID but Spencer, 1989 uses the acronym ORID) - let me explain.


Stages: (look at the first letters of each stage)

1. Situation

2. Affective Domain (feelings)

3. Interpretation of Events

4. Decision (what are you going to do as a result?)


Outcomes: the group develops a shared understanding of the event and

the desired outcomes.


Ref: Spencer,L. (1989)  Winning through participation - meeting the

challenge of corporate changes with the technology of participation.

Kendall Hunt Publishing Company: Iowa, USA


Kolb, D.A. (1984)  Experiential learning experience as the source of

learning and development. Prentice Hall Inc: Englewood Cliff, New Jersey


ToP Discussion

provides a structure for effective communication

that is based on our natural thinking processes.  The facilitator directs

the thinking of the group towards making a decision using a sequence of

specific questions that takes them through the four levels of awareness:

objective, reflective, interpretive, and decisional.


Firing Line Technique - Delbecq (1992)


The purpose of this process is to - enable participants to think

holistically and contingently.


Basically it goes like this:


1. Participants bring a question which is based on previous material.


2. The question must fit the following 10 guidelines:-

a. provide the basis for group discussion

b. not be simply factual

c. be central to the shared reading material

d. open to a variety of interpretations

e. be concisely worded

f. be easily understood

g. not be ambiguous

h. require reflection before answering

i. relate to the course (training, etc)

j. be open (more than a yes/no response)


3. Participants form groups (6-8 people), discuss their questions and

pick their "best question"


4. Two teams are randomly picked to submit their question to two other

randomly selected teams.  The latter leave the room and prepare answers.


5. The two questions are graded by the remaining people in terms of the

criteria outlined in 2.


6. Two teams return and present their answers.  The whole group then

discuss the answer.


7. Time allocated for the whole exercise is ten minutes (believe me - you

can do it!)


8. Questions are graded by the group and the lecturer (facilitator)


Ref: Delbecq, A. (1992)  Firing Line.  Handout from the Organisational

Behaviour Teaching Conference, University of Calgary, Canada, June 1992.


The last "tool" takes some getting used to but it gives participants the

opportunity to test their questions - after all, poor questions usually

elicit poor responses (implications for continuous improvement and

the whole TQM process).




From: Andrea Tannenbaum, IntraGroup Dynamics

(Originally posted under the thread Facilitator's Toolkit)

Storyboarding/Compression planning.

I think it

was developed by Disney studios originally, and it got tweaked along the

way.  This technique is utilized for planning actions (or stories).  It

can be used for 'simple' projects, or complex efforts.


Compression Planning:

- start with a concise statement (e.g. what are the steps to....)

- the answer is brainstormed.

- Similar to clustering, the ideas can then be grouped, but the process

  is much more controlled.  Headers are created for each grouping.  You

  should be able to go backwards (if I do all these *headers*...will I have

  *concise statement*?).

- The process is then repeated within each grouping, with subheaders

  identifying distinct processes that add up to the header.

- and repeated again, until you have as much detail as is necessary.

  The end result looks something like an organization chart.




From: Sandor P. Schuman    Albany, New York


An excellent source for processes and techniques is:


Techniques of Structured Problem Solving. 

VanGundy, Arthur B. Jr. (1988).  New York:  Van Nostrand Reinhold.


He reviews about 110 structured techniques organized into the following



Redefining and analyzing problems

Generating ideas

Evaluating and selecting ideas

Implementing ideas

Eclectic and miscellaneous techniques




From: "ChRoseW" <>


One additional facilitor process you could add to your list.


Consensus Building: A method of bring people with diverse opinions to a point of consensus.


1.  Bring together a group of people interested in the same general topic

    and with a desire to solve the problem or work together.  This can

    work with small or large groups.

2.  The trainer opens the session and sets the tone for working together.

    The trainer asks everyone to list all the issues, people involved,

    impacts, etc. related to the topic.  What the trainer asks for varies

    depending on the topic.  The goal is to get all the various compentents

    of the topic in writing.  The participants are not to focus on solutions

    in this activity. Each item is written on a seperate piece of paper.

    The paper can be large post it notes or plain paper.  If it is plain

    paper the trainer needs a large sheet of paper sprayed with 3M  spray


3.  Have people meet in small groups or dyads.  They share all their

    written ideas.  Then the group must choose 3 or 4 top items.  They

    should save all the other ideas.

4.  The top ideas are posted randomly on the large poster paper.

5.  The trainer reads all the ideas and makes sure they are understood by

    the group.  As the ideas are read some groupings will become obvious.

6.  The trainer takes the group through a process of grouping all the ideas.

    The goal is to get consensus on the groupings.  After all the ideas are

    grouped labels for each grouping can be determined.  The trainer can ask

    the participants if there are any ideas from their orginial list that

    are not represented in one of the groups.  If there are more ideas they

    can be added at this time.

7.  In small groups the participants are asked to write a sentence or two

    that represent the groupings listed.

8.  The sentences are shared in the large group.  The facilitator helps the

    group form a sentence(s) that represents the ideas on the board.

9.  A similar process can then be done around problem solving the statement

    that has just been written.


I have found this process to be amazing in allowing people with very strong

diverse opinions to come together.  This process allows people to hear each

other, to find the common ground, to focus on what they agree on rather than

what they disagree on and to begin to work on developing agreed upon





Date: Thu, 02 Nov 1995 08:42:07 EST



Mind Mapping

This is a graphical representation of brain storming used to dewvelop a vision of what a particular topic, issue, role or person should consist of. The topic to be mapped is drawn in a circle in the centre of white  board of flip chart. Then branches relating to that topic are created. Secondary and tertiary branches are developed. Graphics as well as key words are represented on each branch. Particiapnts are encouraged to be creative when  represneting branches. Relationships between branches are represented by connecting branches. This technique is very useful for, but exclusive to, those with a predominantly visual learning style.


Process Diagrams

I use this technique alot when trying to clarify roles and responsibiltiies of a procedure or process. All of the people or positions involved int he process are listed down the left side of a page. The horizontal  dimension of the page represents time, though not to any specific scale. Participants are asked what they do in each step of the process and who they pass the fruits of their labours on to. The ideal situation is to have only one  arrow to and one going from each process step box. It is very helpful when trying to simplify processes and provides a great diagramtical alternative to flow charts.






Personal Visioning

I use personal "Visioning" as a way to get folks to be open about what

motivates them and to recognize that they share many values with their

co-workers.  I instruct the group to take a sheet of easel paper.  Then I

instruct them to close their eyes and imagine what it would be like to have

things in their work-group working so well that they just couldn't wait to

get to work, had to be forced to go home in the evening, etc.  Visualize what

is going on in the workplace.  What is happening?  What are relationships

like?  What is happening with your "customers," both internal and external?

 Now, in phrases and sentences, write down what you are "seeing."  What is

going on?  How do you feel about it?  What is happening between you and your

co-workers?  What is happening with your "customers?"  I give no instuctions

to "sign" the sheets.


Once everyone is done writing, I have them post their sheets on the walls of

the room with masking tape, and then call for a "break."  Without any

instuctions, people begin to walk around and read what the others have

written.  I let this go on until people spontaneously go back to their seats.

 Then I pass out sheets of "inventory stickers" that you can get from any

office supply store (in green).  The instructions are to walk around and put

a green sticker on any statement that you agree with, incuding your own.  (If

folks run out of stickers I give them another sheet).  Then I give them four

or five (depending on the size of the group) gold stars, with the instruction

to put the stars next to the statements that you would "die for," but you

 can't put them on your own statements.


Once this process has been completed, I have folks walk around the room and

look at the the statements again.  Then we begin a process of using the most

"starred" and "stickered" statements to develop a group "purpose statement."

 A statement of purpose is a statement in the form "What are we making better

for whom, including ourselves?"


This process only takes place after I have done a lecturette on trust.  Trust

is essential to getting people to be open and honest in the processes that





From: Andrea Tannenbaum, IntraGroup Dynamics


What can you add to this list?

-  Mind mapping

-  Compression Planning

-  Decision Grids (4 quadrants)

-  PMI & other DeBono processes

-  "Pink Sheets" (my own technique)

-  Synectics & other uses of metaphors and analogies

-  Habitual question posing

-  Storytelling

-  any electronic medium that will help with organization (including WP

and spreadsheeting)

-  NGT (Nominal Group Technique)

-  strong agenda's

-  respectful ground rules

-  risk analysis

-  'option papers'

-  force fits/brute think

-  future thinking; visioning

-  scenario building

-  coaching, nurturing, modeling desired behaviors/attitudes

-  optimism

-  realism, tainted by optimism

-  WIIFT (what's in it for them?)

-  purposeful accountability (who will do what, by when, for whom?)


there's a ton of creativity techniques, icebreakers, exercises, toys,

etc., out there.  I believe that a 'professional' facilitator brings a

comfort level with a whole host of tools and techniques that can be mixed

and matched for the best effect.  And is always ready to *play* and to

learn more!


I guess that is what I mixed in to your process and techniques, some

skills and attitudes.  I'm sorry if that muddies the water...but it's a

critical piece of the puzzle.




From: Jim Rough <>


Mary, in my four day seminars on "Dynamic Facilitation Skills for

Participative Leadership" which I have been leading for the past 6

years, I teach a process that I call "Choice-creating." It is a way of

supporting the natural energy flow of a group as it moves from head to

heart, intuition to analysis, concerns to mission, creativity to the use

of accepted patterns, etc. It is used for all kinds of issues including

those you asked about.




And, finally, digested from my training manual, the following, some

of which are repeats of the ones above.


Role playing

is used to force the participants to take on roles that

are both unfamiliar to them and to make those roles geared toward

accomplishing a task or experiential learning.  Simulation exercises

often involve role playing.



or idea generation (also called Blue Sky) is used to

generate ideas without judgment, evaluation, criticism, or comment. It is

        - a method for rapidly generating ideas or issues

        - a way to involve all participants in contributing insights

        - a process which gets the group's best initial thinking

Brainstorming can be done individually, in small teams, or with the whole

group.  If brainstorming isn't well directed it can result in more ideas

than the group can handle.


Small group work

is used when it is easier to generate and evaluate

creative ideas within a small group than in the large group.  This is

especially true when you are working with large (over 16) groups of

people.  However, whatever is generated in the small groups must

eventually be validated by the large group.


Clustering or grouping

is used to organize information collected during

a brainstorming or idea generation session.  The information collected

must be on magnetics/cards/post-its/cut paper pieces that can be moved

around into groups.  Affinity Diagraming is a variation of this process

by which the group silently organizes the ideas created during a

brainstorming session.


        Three approaches to grouping are:

        - Categories first (top-down)

        - Associating similar items (bottom-up)

        - Paired comparisons (bottom-up)


ToP Workshop

combines idea generation, small group work and

bottom-up clustering to collect, organize, and label information.


Round robin or talking stick

is a process for facilitating discussions

that ensures everyone has a chance to speak.  One participant starts and

when they are done the next participant can speak.  With the talking stick

or ball, an object is passed around and only the person in possession of

the stick or ball can speak.  Usually there is some time limit placed on

how long a person can talk.  Also, during this exercise, no one can

interrupt the speaker.


Project complexity matrix

is used to analyze the complexity of a project.

The major functions of the project are written down the side of the matrix

and the organizational units associated with the project are written across

the top of the matrix.  When a relationship exists between a function and an

organizational unit, the appropriate cell is checked.  Sometimes codes are

used to identify the nature of that relationship, for example C=critical,

M=moderate, and L=limited.


Graphic facilitation

uses words plus word formats (grids, matrices, etc.)

plus pictographs, images, icons and simple shapes that represent concepts

and ideas.  For example, a circle to represent a whole, a notion, a problem,

an organization, an event, etc.  The circle's line distinguishes what is

internal and what is external to the issue; thus the minds of the group

members begin to perceive the issue conceptually.  Either the facilitator

or the participants can employ this  technique which is very useful for,

but not exclusive to, those with a predominantly visual learning style.

The different formats for framing information and ideas graphically


        - Boarding - Graphically recorded input

        - Poster - An image to convey a central them whose purpose is

          to propose

        - Lists - An arranged list of ideas (most common method)

        - Clusters - Groupings of related or connected ideas

        - Matrices - Used for clarification and decision making

        - Diagrams - Models of information and processes (flowcharts,

          mind maps*)

        - Drawings - A metaphor, shared vision, or image of an idea

        - Mandalas - A centered, unifying model whose purpose is to master

          or show the whole


Mind Mapping

can be used to develop a vision of what a particular

        topic, issue, role or person should look like. The topic to be

        mapped is drawn in a circle in the center of a white board or flip

        chart with branches relating to that topic attached.  Secondary

        and tertiary branches are developed. Graphics as well as key words

        are represented on each branch.  Participants are encouraged to be

        creative when representing branches. Relationships between branches

        are represented by connecting branches.



is a temporary model created as a result of pre-work.  The value

of the strawman model is that it provides a starting point for discussion.

It gives the group something to edit, change, accept, or reject.  It is not

owned by any one in the group.


Criteria matrix

is used to evaluate ideas against a set of criteria where

the ideas are listed on the vertical and the criteria along the top of the

matrix.  The codes used in the matrix cells rate the ideas.  For example,

5=high priority and 1=low priority.


High-level process block diagraming

was originally developed for use by

quality improvement teams to improve work flow processes.  The steps for

creating a block diagram are outlined below and were adapted from PQMI

Consultants training materials.


        1.Identify and name the process to be diagramed.

        2.Identify the major groups that are actively involved in

        the process from beginning to end.  Groups can be anything from

        an individual to an organization to a system.  Outside groups

        can also be included if they interact frequently throughout the

        process. The names of these "groups" become the column names in

        the diagram.

        3. Identify suppliers and the inputs they supply. Inputs can be

        anything that is necessary to carry out the process.

        4. Identify customers and the outputs they receive. Outputs can

        be anything that is delivered as a result of the process. Outputs

        can leave the process at any time and not just at the end.

        5. Set the boundaries of the process by identifying where the

        process begins and where it ends.

        6. Record in boxes the tasks and activities that must occur

        between the two boundaries.  Each box is placed in the column

        of the group that performs that task or activity.  Boxes are

        joined by arrows that indicate the flow of the process.  If a

        decision is required, a diamond is used in the same way as it

        is used in flowcharting.  Ideally the process should flow from

        the upper left corner to the lower right corner with no decision

        boxes.  The question to ask is, "who gets what was just done and

        what do they do with it?"

        7. After the diagram is completed, review it by "reading" to the

        participants what they have just described.

        8. Diagrams should be kept simple.  Some boxes can actually

        represent sub-processes that need to be diagramed themselves.

        9. To use the diagram to improve a process.  First create the

        diagram of how the process REALLY works and then start moving

        and eliminating boxes.  If there are lots of lines crossing over

        each other, this is a good indicator that the process needs to be



Force field analysis

was advanced by Kurt Lewin as a framework for

problem solving.  The technique examines both supporting and resisting

forces to a change or option.  A strategy for accomplishing the change

can be developed from the insights that result from doing this process.

The fishbone diagram is a version of force field analysis.


        The five steps of force field analysis are:

        - Define the problem and write out a problem statement.

        - Define the objectives; the desired results if the problem

        were solved.

        - Define the driving forces; those conditions, actions, events

        that promote or will promote change.

        - Define the resisting forces that inhibit change.

        - Given the identified drivers and resisters, develop a

        solution strategy.

        - Compare the strategy to the objectives.


Decision making scale

can be used to determine what will constitute

agreement or consensus among the participants.  Using the technique takes

the ambiguity out of decision making.  The decision-making scale is created

at the beginning of a workshop and then used whenever the group must make

a single choice decision.  Steven Saint and James Lawson in "Rules for

Reaching Consensus" define consensus as "a state of mutual agreement among

members of a group where all legitimate concerns of individuals have been

addressed to the satisfaction of the group."  Consensus does not mean group

conformity where everyone thinks alike, nor does it mean majority rule, nor

does it mean everyone agrees on everything.


Ranking or voting with dots

is a voting method used to select posted

items.  Participants are given a certain number of colored dots with which

they can vote by placing the dot or dots by the desired items.  They can

place all their dots on one item or place one dot on many items.  Another

variation, is to use a second color of dots to represent "no" votes.


Dialogue process

as originally conceived by physicist David Bohm,

dialogue "explores an unusually wide range of human experience: our

closely held values, the nature and intensity of emotions, the patterns

of our thought processes, the function of memory, the import of inherited

cultural myths, and the manner in which our neurophysiology structures

moment-to-moment experience. . . [It] explores the manner in which thought

is generated and sustained at the collective level." (From the Foreword of

On Dialogue by Dr. David Bohm).


Recently there has been a profusion of variations on the process.  One that

is useful to use with groups where the attention needs to be focused on the

subject rather than the speaker works in the following way.  The group sits

in a circle and directs all questions, responses, and comments to the center

of the circle.  The result is that the focus is taken off of the speaker and

directed towards what is being expressed.  This allows an individual to

express him/herself without being biased by the outward reactions of others.

A basket or bowl is often placed in the center of the circle as a focus point

for the group.


Scenario building

is a process used for planning whereby basic trends and

uncertainties are identified and a series of possible future scenarios are

constructed often with the aid of statistical analysis.



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