6.2 Additional Facilitation Tips

Module notes

Additional Facilitation Tips

OK, let’s talk about some of the more challenging situations you might encounter as a facilitator, and what to do about it.

Here are some common challenges I’ve seen in facilitating blueprinting.

  1. I’m not on board – Someone who doesn't agree with the high level direction, the fundamental assumptions, or worse - doesn’t agree that the project should happen at all.
  2. Mr./Mrs. Negative and Not Possible – one of your stakeholders is shooting other people’s ideas down, thinking in a very limited way, assuming that nothing will work. 
  3. Crickets - A quiet room
  4. Pie in the sky - the team is thinking too big, unrealistic
  5. Deadlock - the team isn’t agreeing on some pieces of the design

Let’s walk through each of these and talk about strategies to address it as a facilitator.

For the first situation – Let’s say you have a stakeholder who, for whatever reason, shows up to the blueprinting session not on board.

Now, they could have issues with the vision for the new experience you are trying to design, or they could be hung up on some of the underlying assumptions, or possibly not even support the project at all.

A few things might tip you off to notice this – first, you might notice their body language. If they are appearing confrontational, defensive, or closed off, this might be a signal that they aren’t on board.

They might be quiet, reserved, or refuse to participate. 

Or they might openly, and sometimes even strongly, present opposing view points. 

Here are some things to try as a facilitator in this situation. 

First, invite them to speak and give them time to express their views. Take good notes and listen. Once you feel like they’ve gotten their main point across, you can ask any follow up questions you might have to help clarify. 

I suggest you take a little time, maybe 5 minutes or even 10 minutes if they are completely holding up the process, to hear them out and understand where they are coming from. 

If they are not willing to share their viewpoint in the meeting, you can suggest that the group take a quick break, and hop into a breakout room, or you can suggest that if they are willing, you can follow up with them offline at their soonest convenience.

Once you feel you understand their view point, reflect that back to them, with a technique of, “It sounds like you are saying X…” or “I heard you say this, is that right?” to 1) help them to feel heard, and 2) to check for your understanding. 

If they agree that you have understood them correctly, suggest a course of action. You might be able to table the topic for a later discussion and get them to agree to proceed even with their reservations.

Or, you might need to adjust your course in the session to address a concern with the new design or direction. It’s possible you can incorporate their feedback as you start to walk through the scenario.

If their concern is project-stopping, however, you may try a tactic of, “I hear you, and I understand your concern. For the sake of the group’s time, however, would you be ok with us proceeding in today’s session, knowing that we may need to regroup once we’ve been able to resolve your concerns?”

Now, another variation on the “not on board” scenario is what I like to call “Mr. or Mrs. Negative and Not Possible.”

This is a stakeholder who is very critical and comes from a place of limited constraints and closed-minded thinking. This isn’t necessarily bad in and of itself, as sometimes these people hold the keys to unlocking organizational culture pitfalls and gotchas.

However, it can be very hard to have one of them in a group, as they often bring the group down a bit. 

You can notice a Mr. Negative by how they regularly shoot down other people's ideas, saying, “that’s not possible” or “we can’t do that” or “Something like that won’t ever work here.”

Something to leverage here is your curiosity. Treat them as a resource, and try to unpack the hidden gem underneath their concern.

Ask them to elaborate why they feel it can’t work, and as you start to identify root causes, capture those in your blueprint as potential pitfalls, or use these as prompts to brainstorm even deeper and find more creative solutions.

Guide the group to problem solve WITH this negative stakeholder, and help them feel included, heard, and part of the process.

Again, as with other negative “scarcity” minded view points, you want to cultivate a safe space, help them to feel heard and valued. 

OK, now let’s talk about probably one of the most pervasive challenges, especially in remote workshops where everyone is on videoconference and some don’t even have their cameras on. 

This is what I call “crickets” – when no one is participating, everyone is silent,  and it seems like you are speaking to the void.

First, I would encourage you to try and recommend people turn their cameras on for the workshop if they are able and willing. This is helpful to you as a facilitator, and it makes the group dynamic more effective.

Second, check the size of your group. In my experience, groups that are larger than 6 will automatically go into “crickets” mode. You might consider keeping your group to a smaller size.

Additionally, you might need to set the tone and seed the conversation. This might start with a round of introductions with an icebreaker question, and also set expectations for how they will participate.

For example, after the introductions, you can explain what each person’s areas of expertise and functional role is in the session, and what you will be expecting them to contribute.

For example, “Jonathan here is our technical expert, and we’ll be looking to him to provide ideas and weigh in on any technical feasibility for our ideas.”

Another strategy for crickets is calling on people one at a time, in a systematic or at least fair fashion. Don’t just call on the people who speak the most. Invite people to speak and contribute. “Aliah, what ideas do you have for this step?”

Another thing about crickets as a facilitator, is that sometimes people just need time to think. Notice the room and whether people need a little more time. Be comfortable with the silence for a bit to give space for people to decide to speak.

Lastly, consider just calling it what it is. “Huh, seems like we’ve got crickets here. Well, since folks are feeling a bit microphone shy, I’ll do us a favor and call on people one at a time.”

Alright, now this one can be difficult to handle. “Pie in the sky” is when your group is getting overly excited and dreaming way to big for reality. 

This may not be a bad thing, and we don’t want to shoot down innovative ideas, but there is a difference between a design idea that is “thinking big” and will push the organization to innovate, and a design idea that’s just downright wacky. 

If you hear the group “yes, anding” until you’re traveling to the moon, you might want to pause everyone, and do a quick round robin reality check.

“Let’s pause and zoom out for a minute. Let’s look at this idea we are coming up with. I want to hear from each of you whether we believe this is realistic for the company to accomplish in 1 year’s time.”

Invite each of them to share. Encourage them to right size the idea down to something more concrete and realistic within the bounds of the project.

You might consider using one of my absolute favorite metaphors: the cupcake MVP

The cupcake MVP (or minimum viable product) teaches us that we may not be able to have the wedding cake right away, but we can still test the experience of eating cake with a smaller cupcake. 

Encourage them to think at cupcake or birthday cake level. 

If needed, guide them through iterating on the idea and editing the blueprint to address the pieces they think are too pie in the sky.

OK, the last situation I’ll break down is “deadlock.” This is when you might have really staunch opinions in the room that are not willing to move or compromise, and they just don’t agree. The group seems stuck on the disagreement and can’t move forward.

As a facilitator, it’s important to recognize this happening, rather than let the discussion get more heated and go in circles, or worse, escalate into conflict. 

First, you have the right to hit the time out button. Speak up and take control of the room. 

Call out what you are observing. Say something like, “Janet, I am hearing you say this… Paul, I am hearing you say this… It seems like we need to find a resolution or a compromise in order to continue.” 

At this point, you can invite the group to problem solve with you. Or you can ask them whether they think we can table the decision, make an assumption for the sake of the session, and proceed past the stalemate. 

You can offer to schedule a separate follow up time to discuss this further with the two parties, or bring in an external person who might be able to weigh in or resolve the issue. This might be your sponsor.

OK, now, this is conflict mediation 101, but some of this is really foundational, important skills to learn as a facilitator.

All this takes practice of course, so I encourage you to not be afraid to try to new things, and exert gracious authority to move the conversation forward.

Good luck!

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