Facilitation guide.

We did some research and learned that lots of people find facilitating daunting, especially when working remotely.

Being a facilitator can take practice. Preparing well and trying new things is important for facilitators of all experience levels.

We spoke to several experienced facilitators and this is their advice.

Facilitators help to:

  • make everyone feel welcome
  • communicate the purpose and goals of the session
  • make sure the session suits different learning styles within the group
  • give clear, visible instructions
  • make sure that everyone can contribute
  • group ideas and themes
  • keep the pace and make sure that everyone has time to complete tasks
  • ask questions that constructively challenge assumptions and reasoning for decisions
  • make sure that everyone understands the outcomes or decisions
  • communicate the next steps
  • keep everything running smoothly and manage any mishaps. They are more likely when you’re facilitating remotely

The facilitator does not lead the discussion in one direction or make decisions for the group.

The facilitator needs all of the group to:

  • tell them who will be there and what they all want out of the session beforehand
  • tell them about different learning styles or ways they like to communicate beforehand
  • participate during the session and give it a go
  • actively listen to each other
  • give other people the chance to speak
  • respect each other’s views and understand that everyone is doing their best
  • give every activity their full attention

Things everyone needs when doing a session remotely:

  • Access to the platforms everyone needs: Teams, Miro, Trello
  • A chat feature within Teams or Zoom so that people can ask questions or comment if they get stuck

Basics of designing workshops.

You may not design every workshop but try and include or add in these elements:

Pre-session tasks: communicate date, time and overview or brief agenda in a diary invite. You want to tell people what the session is about but they shouldn’t expect to know every detail.

  • Welcome and introductions
  • Icebreaker or check-in
  • Introduce the aims of the session
  • An overview: running order, activities, when breaks will be
  • Discuss any blockers or limitations
  • Introduce the activity
  • Do the method or activity
  • Review the method or activity
  • Next steps
  • Close the session

Post session tasks: share information and outcomes so that everyone can access it.

Creating psychological safety.

Make it clear to everyone at the start that:

  • everyone in the group has an equal voice, opinion and input
  • you actively listen and engage with everyone's input
  • some conversations may be challenging, but you always respect each other and are focused on the value of the work
  • one person speaks at a time. Asking people to put a virtual hand up if they want to speak can help with big or vocal groups
  • everyone talks about one thing at a time and we are clear when we are moving on to another topic
  • you keep things simple and straightforward
  • you make things as visual as possible to help everyone's understanding

Running the session:

  • Set up your collaboration or working space in advance
  • Think about questions you will ask to get discussion going in advance
  • If you have more than 3 or 4 people in the group ask someone to help you group themes during discussions and set the clock on screen
  • Things will take twice as long as you think they will when facilitating remotely so allow extra time into your plan
  • Be specific and provide examples when you can
  • Plan in breaks after 45 mins to an hour
  • Make sure people can see timings and notes being captured at the point they need it
  • Doing a check-in at the start will help you understand how people are feeling before the session. If people speak at the start, it’s also more likely they will join in during the session.
  • Keep background info concise but long enough so that everyone understands it
  • Leave time to discuss ideas
  • Do a checkout at the end too so you can get some immediate feedback about whether the session achieved the outcomes or added value
  • Finish on time
  • Finish with what’s next
  • Make sure people are accountable for any actions

Activity tips

  • You could try the ‘Liberating Structures ‘1,2,4 all’ framework for activities:
    • individually people think about and write down ideas around a topic
    • pairs to discuss ideas
    • all: share with the group
  • Provide the group with silence for thinking or reading time if they need it
  • Creates a balance between presenting background, capturing information and generating discussion

Using the chat function:

  • How do you want the chat to add to your session?
  • Is it mainly for questions and comments?
  • Using emojis and adding gifs might help people feel more connected
  • Adding links to external sites that are off topic might be distracting

It's important for a facilitator to try to:

  • be brave and go for it. Expect the unexpected and understand that rarely will it go completely to plan but that's ok
  • research your session content and audience well so that you can be confident and step in when you need to
  • find the balance between allowing discussion and moving the conversation on
  • trust your gut feelings. Sometimes it’s right just to move things on
  • ask your group how they can best use the time if things start to go off-track, rather than rigidly sticking to the plan
  • adapt the approach based on how your group responds

What to say when

What you could say when:

People are confused or when you don’t know if people have understood, which is most of the time when you’re working remotely:

“What can I clarify for you?”

“Is there anything I can clarify for you?”

Always assume someone hasn’t understood.

Try to avoid saying: “Does that make sense?” and “Is that okay?”

It can make people think that you doubt whether it makes sense or is okay.

If you don’t know what someone means:

“Can you tell me more about that..”

If someone has skipped ahead to a different activity:

“We’re looking at x activity now and will move onto y in a few minutes.”

You can also use the Miro tool to “bring everyone to me” if you feel like people are lost on the board.

If someone is talking too much:

“Does everyone agree with that or think something different?”

“What does everyone else think?”

“That’s an interesting point. Would anyone like to respond?”

If you’re off point: “Can we park that there...”

If you’re on point: “Would anyone like to respond?”

Try to find a way to interject. Often this means waiting for a pause. This takes practice.

If someone hasn’t talked at all?:

“has anyone else got anything new or different to add?”

“In a few minutes we’re going to talk about x. I’ll ask two of you to say what they think.”

This helps people to prepare to say something.

If someone throws in a question or comment that takes you completely off topic because they have something they want to talk through:

“We’re starting to go down a different route/talk about a different topic. Do you want to explore that or do you want to carry on with what we were working today?”

If you start to go round in circles:

“I feel like we’ve exhausted this, shall we move on or has anyone got anything new or different add?”

“Has anyone got anything to add that will help the group move on?”

This way if anyone adds anything it will add value and if not, you can move on.

What else is important:

Check-ins, people more likely to speak if they have said something at the beginning!!


Want to know more?

Let us know if we can help you or your team apply these ways of working.

Or perhaps let us know how we can improve this website for you.

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