80/20 Facilitation (or, all the study on facilitation most people need)

In response to my recent post on developing your skills in 2016, several people mentioned facilitation as a skill they want to grow. As with many things, you can become good enough as a facilitator in a short time, and you can spend your life refining your skills. For most ScrumMasters, internal agile coaches, or agile leaders, I recommend two resources to grow enough facilitation skill so that facilitating’s not your constraint.

On Structure: The Art of Focused Conversation

I consider The Art of Focused Conversation by R. Brian Stanfield to be the single most useful resource for anyone who facilitates meetings of any kind.

The book is actually two books in one. The first part is a short explanation of the method and some tips for how to use it. Then, the majority of the book is just examples of the method applied to a wide variety of meetings. Read the first part, skim the second, and then dive back in for ideas when you’re planning a specific meeting.

The Focused Conversation method is deceptively simple, but so powerful. Every meeting has four parts: Observation, in which you collect or generate a shared pool of data. Reflection, where you surface participant’s subjective responses to the data so they can become part of the data. Interpretation, where you make sense of the data together. And Decision, where you decide what action to take. By addressing a topic in those four ways and in that order, meetings run more smoothly and achieve agreement much more often. I use this approach for virtually everything I facilitate.

On Tactics: The Secrets of Facilitation

A good structure for a meeting gets you most of the way to success, but a handful of tactics still separate the effective facilitators from those who struggle. How do you open a meeting? How do you deal with disruptive participants? What info do you capture visually and how?

Michael Wilkinson’s The Secrets of Facilitation is a nice introduction to a wide range of these essential facilitation tactics. The book can be read straight through, or you can jump in for the information most relevant to the meeting you’re about to facilitate. It’s fairly expensive, but it’s one I go back to over and over again.

Your Turn

  • What have you learned from these books if you’re read them?
  • What other facilitation resources have been useful to you?
  • What, specifically, would you like to improve about your facilitation? (Maybe I can write about these in a future post.)

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Richard Lawrence

Is co-owner of Agile For All. He trains and coaches teams and organizations to become happier and more productive. He draws on a diverse background in software development, engineering, anthropology, and political science. Richard is a Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coach and Certified Scrum Trainer, as well as a certified trainer of the accelerated learning method, Training from the Back of the Room.

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