How to Improve Your Use of Easels When Facilitating


The National Speakers’ Association once stated that the most important change speakers could make to be more effective would be to be more facilitative. By that they meant the use of interaction, solicitation, and capture of participants’ ideas. Whether you are a speaker, teacher, coach, or traditional facilitator, it is good to develop competence using easels, large Post-It® paper, and broad chiseled markers.  Here are some tips for you or your documentor. Paper continues to offer superior benefits to digital capture because most complex issues cannot be fully rendered or understood with one screen of bulleted items. Additionally, if it is not documented, it did not happen.

“Never use computer applications for something that you do not understand and cannot first do yourself.”
—Francis Webster Jr
 

Begin with good materials and supplies. Few things will frustrate an expert facilitator more than cheap paper and poor quality easels.  Most will carry their own, preferred markers. Large, Post-It style presentation sheets provide immediate and visual feedback to participants. Working with paper makes it faster to edit and refer to work that was drafted or completed earlier. When working with easel sized paper, consider the following tips:

  • Anticipate where sheets will be mounted. Be sensitive about everyone’s sight lines. Save your prime, center real estate for scrubbing and scoring ideas during each agenda step.
  • Banners or headlines provide an excellent opportunity for iconic support and color splash. They can be created in advance and when unveiled, connote a strong sense of preparation and importance.

    Easel Sample

  • Experts suggest using a minimum of three colors per sheet. Only use black or dark blue for primary content. Use red for edits and scoring, use green for linking, or edits (shows chronological shift).  Use lighter colors for grid lines, table lines, or illustrations.
  • Pre-drawn illustrations (in pencil or light marker) enable you to draw over thin lines with broad markers in the session as needed.
  • Rip, do not flip, completed pages. Participants need to see their prior work and a bunch of flipped sticky pages get caught up in a clump that is difficult to disentangle.
  • Save valuable real estate along the left hand column, defaulting to hyphens of indented items that may be further defined or scored during the analysis step with a prioritization tool.
  • Use flip chart graph paper with blueline squares to keep the size of writing consistent. Try out the size of the letters before the session to see if the person farthest away can read them. Capital letter should be two to three inches tall and lower case letters should be one to two inches in height.
  • Visual displays that are illustrative, iconic, and colorful are proven to stimulate participants and increase the quality of their contributions and feedback.
  • Wedge tips markers are best for writing and pointed tip markers are good for highlights. Use the broad side or flat edge of the wedge tip so that your writing is visible from six to eight meters.
  • You may speed up the capture process during the ideation step of Brainstorming by using two scribes (ie, documentors). Work this out in advance, and if relying on a participant for help, give him or her some time at the end to add his or her own ideas.

For additional and specific product recommendations, see your FAST Session Leader reference manual or refer to the Alumni Only resource section of our web site. Specifically, the document entitled Facilitator‘s Tool Kit lists many of the items that can be used to support more effective facilitation through the use of easels.

“The problem with digitizing brainstorming is that we don’t need to save what we brainstorm . . . The critical thing is the conclusion . . . The slick brainstorming capture tools . . . Will probably not be as successful as hoped. There are significant differences among collecting and processing and organizing, and different tools are usually required for them.” [pg 271] — David Allen, Getting Things Done
 

Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember friends, 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).

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


Purpose

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.

Rationale

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 who is in which group.
    • Do something more creative and appropriate than the seating arrangements (ie, “this half of the room”).
    • Consider quick yet creative methods such as alpha sorting their names, birthplaces, birth dates, favorite ice cream, etc.
    • Consider cutting Sunday comics into three strips and have everyone that draws the same comic form a team together or drawing from a basket of playing cards.
  • Appoint a CEO for each sub team, namely the Chief Easel Operator.  Assign their workspace and have it already provisioned with an easel, paper, markers, etc. The CEO is not responsible for scribing but for administering the supplies and providing a single point of contact for the facilitator when they check-in for a status update:
    • Remind scribesto capture verbatim inputs, more is better.
    • Remind scribes to capture content in black or dark blue marker that will be visible for presentation to the other sub teams.
    • Remind scribes to be neutral, only contributing 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.

Notes

  • 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, cutup cartoon strips (eg, Dilbert® . . . ), etc. Thematically strive to align with the project naming conventions.

Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember friends, 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).

How to Converge Your Brainstorming Input—Key Measure (continued)


Brainstorming‘s third activity, frequently called ‘convergence’, may take the form of decision criteria. Criteria can take different forms, as shown below.

Purpose

Here we define how an organization will measure its progress as it reaches toward its future vision.

Defined—key, measures, objectives, goals, and considerations:

  • A key is something of paramount or crucial importance.
  • A measure is a standard unit used to express the size, amount, or degree of something.
  • An objective is a desired position reached or achieved by some activity by a specific time. Objectives provide measurable performance [ ≣ ].
  • A goal is a directional statement that may remain fuzzy or subjectively measurable [ ☁ ].
  • A consideration is an important management issue, constraint, or concern that will affect reaching the objectives
    [ ✓ ].

Rationale

Key measures must support measurements toward the vision of the organization. They enable a group to better shape and define the most appropriate strategies, activities, or tactics (ie, WHAT to do to reach the vision). In the Six Sigma arena, objectives are frequently referred to as CTQ, or Critical to Quality measurements.

Expected Output

Clearly and properly defined objectives result from this step, along with a list of goals and other considerations.

  • CTQ would substitute the following questions for the SMART test:
  1. Is it specifically stated with upper and lower specification limits?
  2. Is it directional so that we can objectively determine whether it is increasing, decreasing, or staying the same?
  3. To what extent is it linked to specific customer needs connected to the objectives of the project?

Method

Use ideation to develop candidate key measures: Describe the rules of ideation in Brainstorming. Define the terms (generally—methods of determining progress). List all candidate measures, perhaps stimulated by voice of the customer or customer types, and focus on items that overlap. When the group exhausts the list, review each candidate and separate into potential categories by coding them as shown. objectives [ ≣ ], goals [ ☁ ], and considerations [ ✓ ] Review potential objectives [ ≣ ] and make them SMART. Do not show the SMART definition however until after you have captured the raw/ draft input. Consider using homogenous break-out groups to convert raw input into final form, SMART objectives (ie, Specific, Measurable, Adjustable [and challenging], Relevant [and achievable], and Time-based). Separately list and fully define the remaining goals and other important considerations.

Remember friends, nobody is smarter than everybody. For detailed support, see 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).

How to Analyze Brainstorming Input (continued)


We have covered some popular methods of analysis in other blogs. Here we look at framing the scope of arguments, projects, and programs, which demands more structure than can be afforded through simple discussion. While the framing tool has various names, and uses, it frequently is called “Is Not/ Is“. Faster to build than a context diagram, meetings that are designed to support projects, are best served by having or creating a frame that helps ensure consistent decision-making.

Purpose

To create a scoping statement—what may or may not be included in a field of work. It is best to begin with the “Is Not” (ie, OUT) items and then continue with what “It Is” (IN) items.

Rationale

Groups need a tool to help them stay focused and prevent drift. When the group agrees what something is, they should also test it by confirming what it is not.

Method

Various methods may be used to capture input, including the use of sub-teams, Post-It® notes, electronic submission, and off-line information gathering. Consider gathering input from multiple perspectives (see our Root Cause Analysis tool for other perspective suggestions). Frequently it is advisable to include framing analysis along with the Categorizing tool.  Frequently there are similar or redundant inputs that can be eliminated or chunked together.

Once the group feels comfortable with how they have categorized what is not or is part of the subject matter at hand, it can be helpful to convert the raw input into an articulate narrative paragraph. The final statement, or few sentences, serves as an appeal to later to see if something should be included or not (or applied to the frame itself as “uncertain” or even the Parking Lot as beyond immediate scope).

Let the group know that the statement can be modified later if they find it advisable, usually to sharpen the edges and make the scoping even clearer than the original. Most items should be IS NOT or IS but some items remain undecided until they are resolved or escalated to a sponsor or review board to decide.

“Shape clay into a vessel;
it is the space within that makes it useful.

Carve fine doors and windows,
but the room is useful in its emptiness.

The usefulness of what is
depends on what is not.”

— Wisdom of the Tao, Eleventh Verse

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.

 

How to Facilitate Ideation Using the Brainstorming Tool


 

Encouraging and developing ideas is the easiest of the three activities required to operate the tool called “Brainstorming.” The other two activities include analysis and convergence (or, decision). Whether you use an easel or a spreadsheet, Post-it® notes or illustrated drawings, the first principle of brainstorming, as it was intended by Alex Osborne, is to encourage capturing lots of ideas without constraint or judgment. Most neophyte facilitators become the first person in the meeting to violate this principle by asking for definition or further explanation, such as “Tell us more about _____.”

Regardless of HOW you gather ideas, embrace the first principle we call “Ideation.” This first step of brainstorming can be reinforced with a discrete set of ground rules such as:

  • No discussion
  • Fast pacing, high-energy
  • All ideas allowed
  • Be creative—experiment
  • Build on the ideas of others
  • Suspend judgment, evaluation, and criticism
  • Passion is good
  • Accept the views of others
  • Stay focused on the topic
  • Everyone participates
  • No word-smithing
  • When in doubt, leave it in
  • The ideation step is informal
  • 5-Minute Limit Rule (ie, ELMO doll — Enough, Let’s Move On)

In our experience, having used all of these rules at one time or another, only the first four (shown in bold font) consistently add value. For example, a few of the ideation rules suggest that someone has made a remark (eg, No word-smithing). If the facilitator carefully polices the very first ground rule (ie, No discussion), then it obviates the need for some of the other ground rules.

The ELMO rule is also not necessary if the activity is closely policed. How long can a group maintain “high-energy”? If the group is working with high-energy at the five-minute mark, do you really want to shut them down? It is likely that energy will begin to die down in the next few minutes anyway, so if closely monitored, the formal rule is not necessary, although typically the facilitator should expect to wind down the ideation activity within six to eight minutes anyway. Larger groups may keep up high-energy for ten to twelve minutes, but it is most unlikely that any group will maintain true “high-energy” for fifteen to twenty minutes.

Once the ideation activity is complete, the real work begins. What are you going to do with the list? The first challenge is normally about definition and what something specifically means. How to effectively facilitate a consensually understood definition, is covered in the next blog.

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.

 

How to Facilitate Brainstorming


The term “brainstorming” is technically a gerund, a verb that wants to be a noun.  When done properly, brainstorming can be highly effective.  When done poorly, it leaves a bad taste in peoples’ mouths. Most consider optimal brainstorming to include three discrete activities:

  1. List (also known as diverge or ideate)
  2. Analyze (the hardest of the three activities and the one frequently omitted)
  3. Decide (also known as converge or document)

A facilitator or session leader must be conscious where the group is and upon which activity the group should focus.  Many people are confident in their facilitation skills because they can stand at an easel and capture ideas (or provide instructions and gather Post-it Notes®).  Those same leaders then turn to their participants and ask them to create categories, or worse, ask what they would like to do with the list.  This type of leadership is NOT facilitation and does NOT make it easier for the group to make an informed decision.

The difficult part of brainstorming, and frequently facilitating, is knowing what to do with the list—how to lead the group through analysis that is insightful.  There is no “silver bullet” for the ill prepared.  The appropriate analysis should be determined in advance, with an alternative method in mind as a contingency or back-up plan. Many of the other blogs are about HOW TO analyze input.

For example, there are numerous ways to help groups prioritize, from the simple through the complicated to the complex.  Purchasing stationary may be simple, while designing machinery (eg, jet aeroplane) is complicated, and creating artificial intelligence (think IBM’s Watson playing Jeopardy) is truly complex. Each has a different and appropriate method for analysis and prioritization. For example, we rely on the PowerBalls to for the simple analysis, the Scorecard tool for complicated analysis, and our quantitative SWOT framework for the truly complex.

One might use PowerBalls for a simple decision.  To drive consensus around a complicated decision, something more robust is required such as a quantitative Scorecard approach that separates criteria into different types such as binary (ie, Yes/ No), scalable (more is better), and fuzzy (subjective).  Alternatively, qualitative Perceptual Maps may suit some groups better.  For the complex, a hardy and robust tool is required such as MG Rush’s quantitative SWOT analysis.

Subsequent blog posts provide insight about HOW TO lead high quality sessions that use Brainstorming as a tool for groups to gather, analyze, and decide.  Please post any questions you have or challenges that you may have encountered.  We will post a response based on our body of knowledge (BoK) supported by decades of experience leading groups to make higher quality decisions.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember friends, 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).

Daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify the skills of a facilitative leader.

 Related articles

How to Facilitate Quick and Simple Prioritization Using a PowerBall Method


Purpose

To help a group quickly and simply prioritize.

Rationale

Apply the Pareto Principle (aka 80-20 Rule) to help a group deselect and to eliminate as many options as possible so the group can stay focused on the most important or attractive options.

CAUTION

Be aware that the optimal approach suggests that you prioritize the criteria, not the options directly.

Method

The following steps should be read with an understanding that some of the material and examples used to support prioritization and other approaches discussed elsewhere on this blog site and in the FAST curriculum.

  • Establish the purpose of what the team is doing (ie, Purpose of _______ is to . . .    So that . . .)
  • Build a list of options (eg, Brainstorming). Set the list of options aside.
  • Build a list of criteria (be prepared to define each “criterion”).
  • Look at the criteria to see if any options are in violation. For example, if Sally is allergic to flowers, then “buying her flowers” is probably an option that should be eliminated.
  • Consider asking the participants if they can live with the remaining options. If someone objects, then eliminate that particular option.
  • Once they can live with the remaining options, you have consensus.
  • To improve the quality of the decision, unveil the visual support for PowerBalls and the accompanying definitions, and prioritize the criteria.
  • Find the option(s) that best align with the most important or mandatory criteria.

The definitions shown here work in almost all situations, namely:

  • 5 or a solid ball means high “Pay any price.
  • 1 or an empty circle means low or “Want it free, not willing to pay extra for it.”
  • 3 or a half-filled ball means moderate or all the other stuff  between high and low, meaning we are “willing to pay a reasonable price” without being forced to define “reasonable.”

Separate the most/ least important criteria. Code the remaining as moderate by default, without discussion. Attempt to force fit one-third of the candidates as each high, low, and moderate—but be flexible. Appeal to the high criteria and isolate the option(s) that best satisfy the prioritized criteria. To further optimize or guide discussion (if required), appeal to some of the fuzzy factors that may be difficult to measure objectively.

When you need help creating a robust definition of something that may be argumentative, turn to the Definition Tool for support

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember friends, 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).

Daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify the skills of a facilitative leader.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,760 other followers