How to Create and Sustain a Participatory Environment


The primary responsibility of a facilitator is to protect the participants.  Secondarily, the facilitator helps drive the group toward its desired deliverable.  Since the deliverable is built to serve the participants, the people take priority over the issues.  To some extent, both people and issues are managed by creating an environment that is conducive to productivity.  Easier said, than done.

Additionally the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) encourages you to “Demonstrate effective participatory and interpersonal communication skills . . .

  • Apply a variety of participatory processes
  • Demonstrate effective verbal communication skills
  • Develop rapport with participants
  • Practice active listening
  • Demonstrate ability to observe and provide feedback to participants”

The “zen” of the experience warns us that participants will respond to stimuli differently.  Psychologist Howard Gardner identified eight distinct types of intelligence.  He claims that all humans have the spark of genius buried within, but they manifest differently among us.  The eight types include:

  1. Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence (“Body Smart”)
  2. Interpersonal Intelligence (“People Smart”)
  3. Intra-personal Intelligence (“Self Smart”)
  4. Linguistic Intelligence (“Word Smart”)
  5. Logical-Mathematical Intelligence (“Number/ Reasoning Smart”)
  6. Musical Intelligence (“Musical Smart”)
  7. Naturalist Intelligence (“Nature Smart”)
  8. Spatial Intelligence (“Picture Smart”)

You can begin to appreciate the value of applying a variety of participatory tools to solicit input from your participants.  Clearly and factually, not all of them will respond effectively to a strictly “verbal” environment.  Thus it is critically important to interview your participants in advance.  How else will you understand them and the method that may best serve them?  As we say in FAST class, there is no “silver bullet” to be an effective facilitator.  If you don’t show up prepared, your performance will likely be sub optimal.

Once we understand our participants better, and can improve the selection of tools that we choose to use in our meetings and workshops, effective facilitation relies heavily on active listening.  When conflict develops, people frequently do not listen to the other person or side of the story.  The facilitator’s role becomes indispensable to provide reflection on what is being said, because more participants will listen to the facilitator.  Don’t forget to confirm however, that you got it right.

Or write, as in, capture the reflection in writing.  If you capture the participants’ primary thoughts (frequently referred to as a causal link as in “I think that . . .”) in writing, such as a large Post-It® on an easel, it becomes easier to have them reflect on what was written down or captured.  Your participants can then confirm the accuracy or offer up corrections or additions as appropriate.

When providing feedback and reflection, scan the room and observe reactions, typically non-verbal.  Determine if it appears that the group understands and perhaps agrees, or if there is resistance —perhaps due to misinterpretation or misunderstanding that you can help clear up through active listening.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiative, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

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About Facilitative Leader & Instructor
Biographic Sketch — Terrence Metz Since the end of 1999, Terrence Metz has been a founding principal partner and vice president at Morgan Madison & Company. For over twenty years, through professional and academic endeavors, Terrence has focused on improving group decision-making. His experience has proven that two important components to effective group decision-making are: 1. Higher quality information assures higher quality decisions, 2. Properly managed conflict, generates more “options” to consider—
and groups with more options are proven to make higher quality decisions. Terrence is passionate about using and teaching the FAST Facilitative Leadership Training technique so that people and teams make more informed decisions. Terrence is the lead instructor and primary curriculum developer for MG Rush Performance Learning. He earned his Six Sigma Green Belt® from Motorola University and wrote most of the existing FAST curriculum. Terrence made the FAST technique more robust by adding and enhancing decision-making tools such as PowerBalls and the FAST quantitative SWOT technique that is used worldwide by Fortune 1000 companies. He introduced the concept of holism to the field of structured facilitation as a method for keeping discussions on target and aligning deliverables throughout an organization. Since 1999, Terrence has taught over two hundred classes. With a Baccalaureate in Science from Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and a MBA from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on product/ process development and innovation. Terrence has a P&L background in capital goods markets with highly engineered-products and services (eg, Honeywell). He is an expert group facilitator, instructor, and developer of workflow processes and Voice of the Market inputs that accelerate commercial success. His engagements have included strategic development, business planning, problem-solving, continuous improvement, organizational design, process design and improvement, customer cognitivity workshops, and market-based product development and launch. His book "Change or Die: The Business Process Improvement Manual" from CRC Press was published internationally in 2012. Terrence completed additional graduate work in inter-cultural decision-making processes at Marquette University, is a former board member of the Product Development Managers’ Association, and a long-time member of the IAF (International Association of Facilitators), MFNA (Midwest Facilitators Network Association), TMAC (Technology Management Association of Chicago) and WFS (World Future Society). Most importantly, Terrence is an effective listener and equally adept at teaching FAST classes as well as galvanizing consensus around complex issues for organizations and groups.

10 Responses to How to Create and Sustain a Participatory Environment

  1. Mick says:

    Excellent advice.

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