How to Manage Breakout Sessions (or, 3 Minute Sub Team Productivity WOW)


Breakout sessions or sub team efforts enable teams to capture more information in less time and to also overcome the monotony of relying too much on narrative Brainstorming.  With strong active listening, the session leader (aka, facilitator) may take up to one-half of the total talk time by setting up context and providing thorough reflection of participant input. With ten participants in an eight-hour session, each participant probably contributes less than thirty minutes of individual airtime, unless you spice up your meetings with breakout sessions.


Breakout Sessions

Additionally, and a very strong benefit of breakout session, all members (especially quiet ones) are given permission to speak freely as their voice now defends their sub team’s position, not necessarily their lone voice.

Here are important considerations for managing face-to-face breakout sessions:

  • In advance, have sub team assignments predetermined or at least determine the method for determining their own ideas at the end if those ideas have not been volunteered.
  • Publish your assignment or questions to be discussed on a screen or in a handout. Be crystal clear with your instructions and the format you expect each sub team to complete or build.
  • Keep the question or instructions posted (eg, on easel or with a projector) or print out and distribute to each sub team since teams frequently gather outside the main workshop room.
  • Give them a precise amount of time or deadline and monitor them closely for progress and questions. Three minutes is optimal. It is truly amazing what a group of people can accomplish in three minutes with clear instructions.


  • When they return with their contributions, you have already built consensus.  Now you need to reconcile the voice of a few sub teams rather than the voice of many individuals.
  • Other approaches to appointing sub teams may include birth dates (eg, months or days); birth position (eg, last child); latitude or longitude of home, office, or birthplace; mountain peaks, constellations, cut up cartoon strips (eg, Dilbert® . . . ), etc. Thematically strive to align with the project naming conventions.

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.

About Facilitation Instructor
President of Morgan Madison & Company, through professional and academic endeavors, Terrence has focused on improving group decision-making quality. His experience has proven that: 1. Evidence-based information assures higher quality decisions. 2. Properly managed conflict, provides groups with more “options” to consider —
 and groups with more options have been proven to make higher quality decisions. With a Baccalaureate in Science from Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and a MBA from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, Metz’s core competency has focused on rhetoric: the process of adjusting ideas to people and people to ideas. He is a founding principal partner and president at MG RUSH and a certified Six Sigma Green Belt® from Motorola University. CRC Press, part of Taylor and Francis, publishers since 1798, published his recent book, “Change or Die: Business Process Improvement Manual”. Terrence introduced the concept of holism to the field of structured facilitation as a method for keeping discussions on target and aligning deliverables within and throughout an enterprise. As a public speaker and instructor, he strives to reduce ‘noise’ and ‘distractions’ so that groups and teams can be more successful. Terrence is passionate about using and teaching the FAST Facilitation technique so that people and teams make more informed decisions. He 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. Since 1999, Terrence has taught over three hundred classes.

12 Responses to How to Manage Breakout Sessions (or, 3 Minute Sub Team Productivity WOW)

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