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 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.

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

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