Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Effective facilitation

The problem of teams new to agility is that they need to self-organize and may not feel ready for that: Self-organization should never be confused with anarchy or absence of order! But how do you conduct an orderly meeting if it is not organized by the team lead?

The answer is: Facilitation replaces direction.

Who needs to facilitate? The obvious answer would be: "The Scrum Master" - for a Scrum team. Or the team coach for another agile team. But that's not the whole story.
For example, Product Owner might want to facilitate Grooming, Refinement, Planning and Reviews without relying on assistance.
For beginning teams, the facilitator should definitely be an experienced coach or Scrum Master. New Scrum Masters need to learn facilitation as quickly as possible. Without an experienced facilitator, you will be doomed to a boatload of frustrating, boring meetings - and there is no guarantee that it will get better!

More advanced teams do not rely on coaches or Scrum Masters for facilitation: The team can somehow facilitate, based on the team's working agreements and social structure and may just require coach intervention for special occasions.

But how do you effectively facilitate?


Borrowing from Dan Pink's "Drive", Purpose is an important element of work.  Whatever meeting you are facilitating, ensure that the purpose is clear and meaningful. This will create engagement.
An important aspect of facilitation is ensuring that the purpose does not get diluted or lost. Intervene when the purpose is obviously lost, but permit potentially valuable sidetracks.

Do nothing

A facilitator's job is not to tell others what to do, say or think. Their job is to get others to do, say or think things. Here are three ways how you can actively do nothing to facilitate the meeting:
  • Do not feel compelled to break the silence after a question was asked. Be comfortable with silence. Wait until someone else speaks.
  • Accept that some of the things which are said may be off topic or misleading: Do not contradict. If you feel the need to intervene, ask a question without making a statement.
  • When a discussion is going on, you may want to take notes, support with visualization or just silently reflect. Do not interfere in a well-going discussion unless the time box is up.

Ask questions

Questions are your most powerful tool for facilitation.
As facilitator, your responsibility is not to tell others anything about the domain of the discussion - your responsibility is to get them to speak. The best way to do this is by asking the right questions.

Games / Exercises

You may want to add some games or other exercises for lightening up the mood or directing the discussion. This may be good to break the ice or to prevent boredom, but be wary that people do not focus on the exercise. This can become a distraction from the original purpose! Do not load a firework of effects without a clearly planned purpose.


A good way to facilitate during moderation is by visualizing. This does not typically mean drawing fancy charts, but it means putting the spoken words into something visible for the eye. This is valuable because misunderstandings or uncertainties become really obvious very fast. For example, drawing an arrow to the wrong bubble will immediately be corrected - without you having to say a single word!


Don't try to change everything at once. Whether you are new to facilitation or "still learning", pick one item that you wish to improve upon and change it for the next meeting. Learn from the feedback, inspect and adapt.
Over the years, your facilitation will continually become more effective through incremental change.

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